In this awkward transition time of spring into summer, when the farmer’s markets haven’t quite opened up in full, and your taste buds can’t decide if you’re ready to switch to more raw and cold salads yet, it’s handy to have a recipe around that is straight forward and prepares you for the summer bounty to come.
Quinoa, the magic grain historically cultivated by the Incas, has risen to the top of staple grain lists held by nutritionists, health and sports enthusiasts, and eco-conscious families. Personally, I like quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) for its texture and versatility. When it’s cooked well, it’s slightly crunchy, just a tad moist, like eating a million tiny chewy balloons. It leaves you feeling great because it isn’t a true grain – it’s actually a seed! So you don’t get the same heavy bloated feeling as from white rice or pasta. Plus, it is also a complete protein and gluten free!! It can be used to replace rice or couscous, as a bed for tagines, stews, and chilies. It can also be made into salads which are great for a lunch picnic on a hot spring day or an entrée at a first-bbq potluck party.
The quinoa salad I had tonight takes on a Mediterranean taste, employing roasted vegetables, mint, feta, and a hint of citrus. With the nights cooling off, it’s easy to roast the vegetables in the oven. When it gets hotter, I’ll be thinking about firing up the barbeque, or just going raw!
Ever since last fall, we’ve been seeing beet salad everywhere. Somehow, the lowly beet (or, la betterave, one of my favourite French words) previously limited to the Eastern European region, namely Ukrainian cuisine in borscht, suddenly found a wider and more cosmopolitan audience. You could get it roasted and tossed with hibiscus and orange blossoms, radicchio, and goat cheese as we did at Oleana in Boston, you could get it and all its varieties in baby form pickled lightly at an upscale tapas bar in Montreal, you could have it served as a structural base for a tagine in one of the few vegetarian restaurants in Paris… just to give a few examples.
Suffice it to say, beets are enjoying a trendy moment in the spotlight. Maybe we could have foreseen it if we were paying attention when all the juice-bars in Toronto (namely Fresh) were serving beet-based drinks to boost iron. I wonder if it has anything to do with more restaurants sourcing locally – beets are one of the longest lasting produce in Ontario and Quebec, peaking in late Fall. They keep well in the crisper or a cellar (if you have one of those, which I don’t), just like potatoes and apples. They are high in fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins, and natural sugar. They’re also cheap.
The flavours of this salad blend together really well to make a hearty starter. Sugar in the beets allow them to caramelize in the oven, the balsamic adds a nice kick, the toasted walnuts coated in roasted beet juice and balsamic somehow takes on a special taste, different from raw walnuts. I prefer to eat this warm or room temperature, with some sea salt sprinkled on top. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container overnight for a potluck!