adapted from Fine Cooking (June 2012)
Our friend Jim just graduated from business school, and we invited him over for a celebratory dinner. Nothing fancy -- just a few friends for backyard cocktails and some food on the grill. (We did do one little thing to make it special. We made Jim's self-proclaimed all-time favorite cake.)
The biggest rule for the dinner? No indoor cooking. It was a steamy Saturday, and we didn't want to turn our apartment into a hotbox.
So we were very pleased to come across the feature in the June Fine Cooking on grain salads. The mag proclaims them "the new summer side," and we couldn't agree more.
As the magazine says, grain salads "just might be the perfect potluck dish" because they're "make-ahead and endlessly versatile." For the same reason, they're ideal for hot summer days when you don't want to cook dinner.
Here's the basic framework: Start with a grain, like farro, brown rice, bulgur or barley. (We chose quinoa, partly because we love the taste and partly because, unlike those other grains, quinoa is packed with protein.) Whisk up a vinaigrette, throw in some add-ins -- anything from fruits and vegetables to cheese, dried fruit and nuts. Mix everything together. Voila!
The magazine feature includes some outstanding suggested combos. We love the idea of a Brown Rice Salad with Apples and Cheddar, or a Spelt Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Zucchini. We centered on asparagus, radish and edamame as add-ins, for one reason and one reason only: That's what we had in the house.
The result was exactly what we wanted: a robust, flavorful salad that was just the right accompaniment for some just-off-the-grill pork loin. The pork (which we'll post about soon) had a lot of terrific Asian spices, so we included some ginger and some sesame oil in our salad, just to keep it in the same culinary neck of the woods.
Below is a specific recipe for the salad we made, but you should really check out the build-your-own-salad tool at Fine Cooking.
As Clay said when we were cleaning up from Jim's graduation dinner, "I want to eat this way all summer long."
Serves 6 - 8
2 cups quinoa
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces(about 2 cups)
2 cups fresh or frozen shelled edamame
4 or 5 small-to-medium radishes, sliced very thinly into discs or half-moons
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Prepare the quinoa. Bring 7 cups water to boil in a medium pot over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Add quinoa and reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 15 to 20 minutes). Drain the quinoa and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat. Spread the quinoa on the baking sheet to cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Fill the pot with 4 more cups of water and return to a boil over high heat. Add another teaspoon of salt. Add the asparagus and edamame and blanch until bright green and slightly tender, about 3 minutes. While the vegetables are boiling, prepare an ice bath by adding ice and cold water to a large bowl. Remove vegetables from heat, drain, and immerse in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Let them chill completely in the ice water.
Make the vinaigrette. Put the vinegar in a small bowl and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil, followed by sesame oil. Whisk in ginger, along with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
Assemble the salad. Put the cooked and cooled quinoa into a large serving bowl and toss to break up any clumps. Add the blanched and cooled asparagus and edamame, as well as the radishes. Add 1/2 cup vinaigrette and toss. Taste and season as needed with more vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Serve or refrigerate for up to 1 day (let sit at room temperature so it's not refrigerator-cold and season with more vinaigrette, salt and pepper before serving). Just prior to serving, add chopped parsley.