The calendar is telling us that it is spring, but here in Central Pennsylvania it is actually the season of limbo. The temperatures have been rising as the week draws to a close and today is supposed to be the warmest day yet! For the time being, the sun and warmth are like a balm for our cold, chapped, winter-weary souls. But we know that it won’t last and at any moment, winter could return and bring with it some snow and ice that is most unwelcome as we ease into April. It short, early spring is pretty much a meteorological purgatory.
In October, when the weather was just beginning to turn, I gravitated to all things warm and cozy and heavy – spaghetti, chili, and anything else carb-heavy that could qualify as bone-sticking. But now, in our early-spring limbo, I want food that is nourishing enough to see me through the cold that will undoubtedly return but also bright enough to remind me that warmer weather will come, and stay. Eventually. Lemon, fennel, and quinoa check all of those boxes. The lemon and fennel are bright and a little sweet, the quinoa is a nourishing protein, and you get a peppery kick from the arugula.
Don’t be afraid of fennel! I’m always a little discomfited when a vegetable doesn’t fit neatly in a produce bag. It just defies the seemingly natural order of things when you can’t put the produce item in a bag and neatly seal it up with a twist tie. If there is one thing I really love, it is ORDER, and fennel is without a doubt disorderly. It has a wild look to it with it’s fronds spiking out all over the place, so it is one of those vegetables (actually, it is an herb if you want to get technical about it) that many of us look at on the shelf and then immediately walk past in search of something more familiar. Fennel has a distinct anise-like taste to it when eaten raw, but don’t let that scare you either. I am not a fan of anise; I’ve never even liked black licorice, but fennel is milder and sweeter and tastes even better when mixed with citrus, as we do here.
If you’ve never bought or prepared fennel, this video from the New York Times is a great reference! One thing to note – you can eat the bulb, the stalk, and the fronds of the fennel plant. I have found the stalks to have a woody texture so I usually don’t use them. I only use the bulb and the fronds and leave the stalks for our wildlife friends in the back yard. You could consider that a perfectly good waste of fennel, but it makes them happy and if they are happy and less hungry, then it is my hope that they will eat fewer plants in my front flower bed.
Wishful thinking on my part? Likely.
Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Caramelized Lemon, & Arugula
A bright and lemony salad to help celebrate the arrival of spring!
- Prep Time: 25 min
- Total Time: 25 min
- Category: Salad, Food Prep
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. olive oil
1 T. red wine vinegar, if needed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. agave syrup (or honey for non-vegan)
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
3 oz. sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not in oil)
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 T. fennel fronds, chopped
2 cups thinly sliced fennel
3–4 oz. arugula
1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add rinsed quinoa and sun-dried tomatoes. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Set aside to cool.
2. Zest lemon, reserving zest. Cut lemon in half.
3. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add lemon halves, cut sides down, to the skillet. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, or until the cut side is nicely brown and caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. Once cool enough to handle, juice lemon. Add enough red wine vinegar to get 1/4 cup of liquid. (I usually end up with about 3 T. lemon juice and 1 T. red wine vinegar.) Add salt, agave (or honey), and 1/4 cup of olive oil and mix well.
4. Cut the fennel stalks from the top of the bulb, reserving some of the feathery fronds at the end of the stalks. Wipe the outside of the fennel bulb with a damp towel to remove any dirt. Cut fennel bulb in half, vertically. Cut out the core from inside the bulb. Thinly slice the fennel. A mandolin works very well here, and helps you to get extra thin slices of fennel. If using a mandolin, I do not remove the core and instead work my way around it. The core helps to keep the bulb intact so you have more to hold on to when slicing it with the mandolin.
5. Combine cooled quinoa with reserved lemon zest and lemon vinaigrette. Add fennel, olives, almonds, and fennel fronds, tossing to coat.
6. If you are serving immediately, gently toss in arugula. If you are making ahead, or keeping it as part of your weekly food prep, then keep arugula separate and serve salad on a bed of greens when you are ready to eat.
*Salad keeps well for several days. Keep arugula separate so it doesn’t get sad and wilted.
Keywords: lemon quinoa, quinoa food prep, food prep, fennel salad, fennel and lemon, fennel and quinoa
There are certain recipes that I gravitate to when I know my schedule is going to get hectic. Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken is definitely one of them, but right next to it at the top of that list is this wild rice salad. I love that it holds up for several days, so it fits well into a meal prep day and gives you a few different options for lunches and/or dinners throughout the week.
Recently, we celebrated Bert’s birthday and my uncle in-law gifted me with a whole bag of cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes from his garden. Given that I have a notorious black thumb, any time that someone wants to pawn off their garden surplus on me, I am so very happy to oblige. I’ve been thinking about a chilled cucumber soup lately, and then Uncle Joe showed up with a whole bag of cucumbers! Clearly the universe decided that chilled cucumber soup needed to make an appearance here at Always Daydreaming, so here we are.
Summer Blueberry Kale Salad has so much good-for-you stuff going on. We’ve got the kale, obviously; blueberries, which we know are packed with antioxidants; plus some healthy nuts and seeds, shredded carrots, and for sweetness a few dried cranberries. Everything is tossed together with an easy peasy honey balsamic vinaigrette.
Some people fear raw kale because on the stalk, it’s tough and you may not know what to do with it. But really, making a raw kale salad is no more difficult than any other kind of green salad, except for this one thing: add the dressing to the greens alone first and mix it well. When I say “mix well” I mean it, no gentle tossing. This isn’t baby spinach or field greens. Your hands are your best utensils so wash up and use them to “massage” the dressing into the greens. The idea here is that by “massaging” the kale with the dressing, the you are breaking down the kale just enough that it becomes tender and delicious. You know you’re doing the right thing when you see the kale turn from a dull, dark green to a bright, shiny green.
I wish someone could explain to me why red onions are called red onions when they’re really purple.
Red, purple, whatever color they are, they are pretty in green salads, pasta salads, grain salads, all kinds of salads. But here’s the rub – red onions are supposed to be fairly mild and a bit sweet, but more often than not I find that they have a pretty strong bite with a tendency to overwhelm other flavors. A simple fix for this problem is to pickle your onions first. They’ll be a bit briny from the vinegar and sea salt, and also have a little sweetness from the honey.
My Nana was a most extraordinary lady. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since we lost her. As this is Holy Week there are surely parallels to be made about resurrection and new life. But frankly, they do not bring me comfort because they do not bring back her smile or her dancing or her enthusiasm for life which was contagious to those around her. I feel like I should do more here in tribute to her; I want to do more here in tribute to her, given the profound impact she has had on my life. At her memorial service I talked about how I believed that Nana’s legacy was that she taught us the language of food. She showed us how we can channel our feelings of grief, joy, and frustration into the preparation of food and use it to show other people that we care about them. It would seem fitting then, that tomorrow we plan a huge dinner in honor and remembrance of her. But the idea of doing so seems like an overwhelming task because there is simply so much to say, both with words and with food. Where do you even begin?
Answer: You begin with bunnies. Pear bunnies, to be exact.
This applesauce is special. Did you know that some applesauce is considered special, whereas other applesauce is not? It’s okay if you were not aware of this fact; after all, it’s my job to think about these things and report back to you. So this is me letting you know that your applesauce needs to be special. I feel that I can speak pretty confidently on this topic because we are applesauce people. This is primarily because my kids are picky eaters and I don’t cook them something separate for dinner, so I always like to have one or two things at the meal that I know they will eat. Enter trusty old applesauce. If you make your own, you can control the amount of sugar in it, which is good for all of us. An added bonus is that it is a good source of fiber, a nutrient that is always lacking in my kids’ diets. At this point in my life as a parent, I have made gallons upon gallons of applesauce. I freeze it, I can it, I add blueberries, I make it on the stove, in the oven, I’ve tried it all.
Of all the different variations and ways I make applesauce, this is by far my favorite. In fact, even if I didn’t want to keep applesauce around for the benefit of my kids, I’d still make big batches of this particular kind because Ray and I like it so much. There is a little bit of pear in there, a few handfuls of cranberries, some lemon, orange, and cinnamon. There are just enough cranberries to make the sauce a little bit tart, but the added pears are sweet enough to mellow out the tartness. The orange and lemon are not pronounced flavors, they just help enhance the others. There’s not enough of anything that it dominates the flavor of the apples, but just enough so that when they all come together you get something a little unexpected and a little special. I find that it is sweet enough that I don’t need any added sugar, but you can always add some if you like.
Last spring my sister introduced me to this Mediterranean Barley Salad and I made it often throughout the spring and summer. Sadly, I always ate it alone because I am apparently the only one in my family that likes barley. I know, I’m just as shocked as you are. Who doesn’t like barley? Well, maybe some people don’t. If you are one of them, don’t give up on barley entirely! In the meantime, maybe try this Lemon Chicken Pasta Salad instead. Among some other swaps and changes, whole wheat pasta takes the place of barley and grilled lemon chicken is added because my husband considers any meal without meat to just be an appetizer. Happily, it all worked and my new version is more family-friendly, at least for my family. I make no guarantees for yours. If there is one thing I know, it is that kids’ (and in my case, husband’s) tastes for things change by the hour and if you bet that they will like anything at any particular time, you will never ever win. The silver lining here is that I’ll keep making barley and maybe one day they’ll change their mind and eat it! I’m admittedly not holding my breath, so for the time being, I’ll just keep making this.
There are two things that I really love about this salad. First, you mix up one vinaigrette and use it to marinate the chicken, season the tomatoes, and dress the salad. Second, because arugula is a fairly firm green, the salad holds up well for a few days which is perfect for my Sunday meal prep day. I make up a batch on Sunday and then I have it around to eat in different portions for lunch, a side at dinner, even one of my mid-day snacks during the week.
When it comes to holiday dinners, the unofficial motto in my family is “Prepare enough food for everyone that is coming to dinner. Then make more.” I always laugh when I get cooking magazines that feature holiday dinners with about 3 things on the plate. Are you kidding me? We have three different vegetables alone! Plus salad, and bread, and a variety of meat, need I go on? So. Much. Food. Good food. Food that people you love have taken the time and effort to prepare because they know that you will savor it. How can you not sample a little bit of everything? Then perhaps a little bit more? And before you know it, the skinny pants you wore thinking that they would help keep your food consumption under control are digging into your belly and you’re counting the seconds until it’s socially acceptable to go upstairs and put on your pajama bottoms so that you can finally get some relief and when you do you want to shout “Thank you Sweet Jesus!” because in that moment you can’t imagine anything better than that blessed elastic waistband. Phew!