Fried Quinoa: The Salad Savior
I admit I’m not a salad person. No matter how many times I tell myself that I should have a salad for lunch or dinner, that voice just never wins. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that salad doesn’t satisfy. I know I’m nuts, and I’m forever on the quest to find a salad that does the trick.
What I have figured out is that texture is key. Throw in a variety of different textures and that salad suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. OK, so maybe what I really mean is throw in a ton of crunchy croutons, but lately I’ve found that crispy quinoa does the same trick.
I take cooked quinoa, dry it on a towel, then pan fry it in neutral or olive oil until it darkens slightly and gets very crisp. It keeps well in an airtight container and when scattered over a salad, it creates a super-satisfying, palate-pleasing bite.
Lately for me, that crispy quinoa has been mingling with cooked quinoa and tons of spring veggies. This is a no-recipe salad at its finest, the best possible way to use whatever produce you love at the market.
Start by cooking quinoa. I always toast mine in a dry pan first, then add 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, bring it to a boil and then simmer very low with a lid on until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff it with a fork and you’re done. Reserve about ¼ cup of it to fry by setting it on some paper towels to absorb the excess moisture. Once it’s dry, put about ¼ inch of oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat, get it warm, then add the quinoa and stir it once in a while. It takes some time, so be patient, but you’ll start to see it transform in color after about 15 minutes. Once it's golden and crisp, fried quinoa can drain on paper towels and be kept in an airtight container at room temperature until you need it.
To assemble your salad, pick 2 to 4 of your favorite veggies. Right now I love shelled and blanched favas, very thinly sliced asparagus “coins” (I cut it on the mandoline with the rubber band around the bunch to hold it together), julienned Easter egg radishes and/or small half-moons of rainbow carrots. Fresh English peas, ramps or spring onions would be fantastic too. Toss ½ to 1 cup of each in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add your cooled quinoa and toss gently to combine.
In a jar, make a simple vinaigrette by shaking together 1 part lemon juice or white wine vinegar to 3 parts extra-virgin olive oil, minced shallot, salt and pepper. Add just enough vinaigrette to the salad to lightly coat (reserve the rest for salads later in the week). Taste your salad and season again with salt and pepper. Minced fresh herbs and crumbled feta or shaved Manchego would gild the lily, but hey, why not? And don’t forget your crispy quinoa—tossed in or sprinkled on top, it's what seals the deal here.
Spring at its best, dinner without following a recipe, and of course crispy quinoa—I may just be coming around to this salad thing.