Oh, it's such a good week, isn't it? I love Martin Luther King Day, love hearing his beautiful voice on the radio all day long, love listening to the old gospel songs inevitably played after a particularly rousing speech, love hearing interviews with people who survived those awful days and are overcome with emotion about how far they, and we, have come. This year it was so especially wonderful to wake up the next morning, abuzz with anticipation and glee, to await the inauguration of our new president. I fairly vibrated with happiness all day long.
And then the kind folks over at the Well Fed Network went and made my week that much better by announcing the nominations for their 2008 Food Blog Awards. My post about my friend Alessandro (remember him?) and his delicious roasted tomato bruschetta is a nominee in the Best Post category, which just tickles me to no end. If you'd like to (and I hope you do!), you can vote here. The polls close this Saturday, January 24th.
Now, to make up for posting about those double chocolate cookies (that are, thankfully, all gone from my house) in this delicate month, I will tell you about a far more virtuous dish. Quinoa salad! It quivers with healthfulness, doesn't it? Far more appropriate for these days, I daresay.
Quinoa, in case anyone is wondering, is an ancient grain from the Andes that is particularly high in protein when compared to wheat or rice, and chockful of amino acids (and dietary fiber!). In other words, it is good for you. Luckily it also tastes nice, which is a relief. You have to rinse it before cooking, because it's covered with saponins that taste bitter if not removed. You'd think a lazy bones like me would balk at that step, but I rinse my rice, too, to remove the starch so that the cooked grains are nice and separated. (Just to clarify, only long-grain and basmati, not arborio, is meant to be rinsed!)
Amy Scattergood wrote about grain salads in the LA Times the other day, including this recipe that has you cook up a whole bunch of shiitakes glazed with soy sauce and rice vinegar (just typing that makes me hungry again) and caramelized fennel and toss them both with cooked quinoa, fried garlic, herbs, lime zest and juice, and sauteed scallions. Hoo boy! Good stuff.
It's a little fussy, because you have to cook everything - the garlic, the fennel, the shiitakes and scallions - in separate steps (technically, in a wok, but I used a steel skillet and it was fine). But fussy isn't always bad. Besides, all you need to do is prep properly. I didn't and I found myself frantically slicing shiitakes while the oil almost starting smoking. Typical. Oh, also, I would double the amount of soy sauce and vinegar with which you deglaze the mushrooms. I wanted this to be really strongly seasoned and it was more subtle than I expected. But it was a gorgeous combination, especially with the final finish of chopped green herbs and lime juice and zest.
You can serve this with roasted, salted cashews, says Amy, or with tofu or shrimp. Maine shrimp, those sweet, tiny, wild, pink specimens, are available here for a few short weeks now, and so unbelievably cheap that I bought a pound and quickly sauteed them in the pan I used for everything else. It was a lovely dinner: healthy and balanced and, best of all, eaten at the end of the first day of a new world order. I couldn't ask for anything more.
Quinoa Salad with Shiitakes and Fennel
2 cups quinoa
1 quart water
1/4 cup peanut oil
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups thinly sliced fennel (about 1 large bulb)
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 cup sliced green onions, both white and green parts (about 1 small bunch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I'd double this next time)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (I'd double this next time)
1/2 cup toasted, salted cashews (optional)
4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1. Rinse the quinoa under cool running water, then drain well with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer (the grains are very small and will slip through a coarse strainer). Heat a wok over medium-high heat and toast the quinoa, shaking the pan frequently, just until the grains dry, are just beginning to color and have a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
2. In a medium, lidded pot, bring 1 quart of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa with a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, heat the wok again over high heat. Add the peanut oil and heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir in the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds (the garlic can burn quickly). Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, keeping the oil in the pan, and set aside.
4. Add the fennel to the oil and fry, stirring or tossing frequently, until it is caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oil and set aside. Add the shiitakes to the oil and stir-fry until caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the green onions in with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry just until the green onions begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the mixture and stir or toss to combine, then remove from heat.
5. In a large bowl, gently toss the quinoa with the warm shiitake-green onion mixture, the fennel, garlic, cashews, parsley, cilantro, lime zest and juice. Season to taste with additional salt if desired and serve immediately.