Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quinoa salad with a creamy dressing - no boring stuff here

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.." - Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mocking Bird

I was reminded of this quote recently during President Obama's speech as he spoke for the last time before making way to the the new presidency. "To Kill a Mocking bird" was one of the very first English reads I remember from my school days. It was still the days when I had no exposure to racism, had no idea of the outside world. I was barely older than Scout when I read it the first time but Finch and Scout's characters have stayed etched in memory. I have read the book multiple times since then and it never fails to fill me with warmth and hope. For the past few days my fb feeds are inundated with news of the inauguration and the aftermath with the protests all over the country. If you are following the swearing in of the 45th president of the largest democracy in the world, I am sure you are familiar with all the happenings. I am an eternal optimist for myself and my children and I hope that the current divisiveness gets replaced by love and hope very soon.

Today's recipe is a salad, I can guess what you might be thinking when I say the word salad. Back home in India, the word salad always had the negative connotation of being 'ghaas phoose', (roughly translated as a muddle of greens with an implication of not being tasty). Things have evolved greatly and salads have become the mainstay in most cuisines around the world because of the mostly healthy ingredients that go into them. You can choose to make an unhealthy salad if you wish :-) but generally and by definition salads are good for you. A salad is a 'put together' of various different ingredients with different texture, shape, color and taste. Infact "salad bowl" was the popular metaphor used to describe this country of mine and referred to the scores of immigrant population that have come in, stayed and made America their homes, it referred to the uniqueness and individuality each of us brought thus enriching the country as a whole.
If I went back to my childhood self and asked, "which salad I liked most", my answer would be "sautekaayi kosambri" because kosambri was the only dish akin to salad that I knew. Most regional indian meals have a salad - kosambri, kachumbar, raita which is generally raw vegetables served with a mild seasoning as our ancestors recognized the benefits of eating raw & fresh before jumping into any processed, cooked food. These are light on the digestive system and provide you the goodness of the raw vegetables. My salads are usually very plain and simple, if I am putting together an indian version (kosambri), then it has got to have a sprinkle of grated coconut, a seasoning of mustard and asafoetida. If I am fixing a non Indian version, then it is mostly a dash of lemon juice, some fresh cilantro, black pepper and salt. I am not into heavy vinaigrette, mustard or other choice favorites when it comes to salad dressings. Lemon and a bit of olive oil is my preferred dressing to enhance the freshness of the salad.
Today's salad is an exception as the dressing here is really 'dressy'. I found the recipe for this dressing on my pinterest board from Ah, that is another one of my favorite down time activities, to troll pinterest boards for recipe inspirations and minion jokes (my favorite by the way :-)). While most recipes are forgotten a few minutes after I glance over them, some stay on coaxing me to try until I give in. This dressing didn't need too much coaxing either as it uses my favorite avocado (called butter fruit in India). I skipped garlic, omitted greek yogurt and kept it minimalistic to bring out the most of avocado flavor. I love how this fruit gives you all the buttery richness without the inherent drawbacks of eating real butter. It is good cream without the unnecessary threats of fat and calories. How can you not fall for that offering? So I did try the dressing recipe and was hooked on completely.
Guacamole is a staple at home as we like to roll the roti up with a generous serving of guac for dinner on most days. I like to add chopped avocadoes in salads all the time. The only trouble with it is that they get oxidized and turn black by lunch time making the lunch box somewhat unappealing and unappetizing. Even with the accompanying lemon juice, the pieces lose their color within a couple of hours. When I saw this dressing, I jumped for joy as it has avocado but finds a way to not spoil the looks of the salad. The dressing is what I call 'stripped down guacamole', it has avocado, black pepper, lemon and cilantro but omits onions, tomatoes and jalapeno. To officially make it a dressing, some olive oil is added. The resulting dressing can also be used as a dip or spread.

I prefer packing a lunch from home every day, lunch box has been an inseparable part of my student life and continues to accompany me in adulthood and my working years. I find it healthier, more economical and definitely easier to carry lunch from home. Exceptions are the days where I am meeting someone for lunch during work. Last year there were a few months in the 3rd and 4th quarter of the year where work was upto my nose and beyond and I had no energy to plan or visualize a lunch box. So, I tagged along with a friend who knowing my love for salads promised that she would help me discover a new salad place. It is a local chain called Evergreen that promises fresh salads. The place is almost always packed if you go there during lunch time and still I found them to be very efficient. They have an assembly line (just like Subway if you are familiar) and keep passing the container down the line as you go on adding ingredients. But unlike other salad bars I have been to, at the end of the line they pour the contents from your bowl onto a chopping board, chop them up and convert into a coarse blend before returning them back to the bowl and handing it over to you. This makes the ingredients come together and helps to have the flavors mix better. I picked up my inspiration for blended salads from this place and have been experimenting with them ever since. The avocado dressing helps to blend and bind the contents of this salad.
What do you need to make quinoa salad? 
Serves 3 people
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1.5 cups water (or use vegetable broth if you have)
Salad veggies (these are the ones I used today, you can add bell peppers, raw mangoes and any other vegetables you like)
1 cup chopped cucumbers (I used English cucumbers and chopped them with the skin)
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 cup cooked black beans/garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped apple (I used a small sized one and peeled and de-seeded it)
for the dressing: 
1 ripe avocado
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1.5 Tbsp lemon/lime juice
pinch of salt
1/4 Tsp coarsely powdered black pepper
1 Tbsp pure olive oil (use extra virgin if you like the aroma)
How do you make quinoa salad? 
  • Take a saucepan, add quinoa in it and roast on low flame for 2 mins or until you start to hear faint popping sounds. Stir a couple of times for even roasting. 
  • Add water into the saucepan and bring it to a boil. 
  • Reduce the flame to low, cover and cook for 8 mins. Switch off and let it stand for 2 mins before fluffing it up with a fork. 
  • Add the cooked quinoa to the salad bowl and let it cool completely before adding the rest of the ingredients. 
  • Add the chopped vegetables and the beans into the bowl and mix gently. 
  • Take all the dressing ingredients except for the black pepper to a food processor or blender and make a smooth paste. Adjust consistency by adding olive oil to your preference. I like the dressing to be thick and creamy and less oily, so I stuck to the above measurements. 
  • Fold in the dressing into the bowl, add crushed pepper and mix gently to bring it all together. Use all or as much of the prepared dressing as you like. Anything remaining can be enjoyed as a dip with crackers, chips etc.
  • Taste and adjust lemon, black pepper etc as you like. 
  • Cover and refrigerate for an hour to chill before serving. 
  • I used canned black beans, so washed them in 2 washes of water and drained all the water. 
  • Tomatoes are a must for me in salads not only for their nutrients and splash of color but also the taste and freshness it imparts. Cherry or grape tomatoes halved are best in salads if they are in season, else use a fully ripe but firm, meaty tomato that holds shape when tossed in the salad. 
  • Add a handful of pomegranate seeds if you have them handy, adds color as well as crunch. 
  • I wanted a wet salad this time and used 1.5 avocadoes in the dressing. You can vary the amount of dressing you add depending on your taste. 

1 comment:

NamsVeni Pothas said...

wonderful and healthy recipe from Sattvaa