I am not of fan of fruits in my meals. I shun entrees such as Cornish game hen stuffed with dried fruits, and forbid the use of any such ingredients in or around my Thanksgiving turkey. This dish, however, is the exception to the rule.
Beets, in my book, are the gateway to sweeter produce. And I adore them. So it was only a small step in the direction of dried cranberries and fresh figs to bring this quinoa salad to…well, fruition. The red quinoa and the jewel colors of glistening diced figs and beets are brilliantly displayed by generous amounts of fresh chopped parsley and scallion. Add toasted pine nuts and diced Bulgarian feta and you have an enchanting salad that dazzles the taste buds as well as the eye. This salad is a wonderful way to feature fresh figs for the new year, and a striking addition to any fall table.
Keep in mind that in a fresh salad such as this, as with most dishes, your result will be only as good as your ingredients. This includes your selection of olive oil. A top-notch extra virgin olive oil will make the difference between a dish that your friends and family will try, and one that will have them coming back for second and third helpings.
This recipe calls for cooked red quinoa. For essentially savory dishes that use a cooked grain, I have found that adding salt to the cooking water is the best way to heighten the flavor and assure a more even distribution. To simmer one cup of quinoa in one and a half cups of water that has been brought to a boil, start with a scant half-teaspoon of salt. If desired, you can add a bit more salt when the grain is at the last stages of absorbing the water. Keep in mind that the feta cheese, if you use it, will add additional salt to this dish.
One cup of uncooked quinoa will yield just below three cups of cooked product. I pop the additional cup of cooked quinoa into the freezer and use it to add some color and texture to cooked rice in the middle of the week.
What you need:
A heavy pot with a lid to cook the quinoa
A heavy-bottomed skillet for toasting the pine nuts
A large bowl for preparing and serving
A small, deep bowl for preparing the dressing
2 small plates
2 cups of cooked red quinoa
1 cup loosely packed chopped parsley
3 sliced scallions (about half a cup)
1 cup diced cooked beets
½ to ¾ cup diced Bulgarian feta. Tangra feta is firmer and easier to chop.
½ cup chopped dried cranberries
1 scant cup diced fresh figs (about three good sized figs)
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
What to do:
Cook the quinoa in advance and refrigerate. To cool quinoa quickly, spread it, without packing it down, in a wide casserole and chill in the fridge for about half and hour.
While the quinoa is cooling, chop and dice the parsley, scallions, beets, cranberries and feta and put them in the large bowl. Do not toss yet. Carefully cut the figs in half, then lengthwise slices and crosswise into small dice. Put the figs aside on one of the small plates. Figs are delicate. They will be added after the rest of the salad is blended.
Toast the pine nuts in the heavy-bottomed skillet. (Do not oil the skillet. ) Keep the pine nuts moving with a wooden spoon until they attain a golden brown color. Your sense of smell is one of the best ways to know when your product has reached the right stage. The pine nuts will give off a fragrance as they reach the right color. Put the pine nuts aside on the second small plate. A toasted ingredient is always added last.
With a whisk or a fork, blend the lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne and blend in the olive oil last. In a dressing, the oil is the final ingredient to be blended in. Always mix the seasonings with the acidic element first, not the oil. Oil isolates the seasonings and prevents even distribution.
Once the dressing is done, add the cooled quinoa to the bowl with the chopped ingredients and gently combine. Add the dressing, lightly but thoroughly blending it in. Last, add the figs using a fork to toss and distribute. Adjust the salt, pepper and cayenne and add additional lemon if you wish. Sprinkle the toasted pint nuts on top and blend them in last.
Serve this dish without the feta to complement your the end-of-season grilled meats and burgers!
By Lisa Reitman-Dobi