Last week something unprecedented happened. I was having a new friend over for dinner and, after shopping at 3 o’clock and starting to cook at 4 o’clock, I found myself at 8 o’clock holding my cellphone and a text message from this new friend saying that he had a work emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was left with a giant bowl of couscous, a whole roasted chicken, vanilla bean pudding (which I’ll blog about later this week) and, lucky for me, two undressed heads of radicchio that I’d sliced and refrigerated in anticipation of making a salad. Now that it was just Craig and me, we wouldn’t need the salad and that undressed radicchio would survive the night in the fridge and become next day’s lunch. As it turned out that lunch–a purple salad that I concocted with leftover chicken, red onion, raisins and toasted walnuts–was almost better than the dinner.
Here are the raw ingredients, pre-dressing:
As you can see, at 7 o’clock, there’s sliced radicchio; then, at 9 o’click, sliced red onion; at 11 o’clock raisins; and at 3 o’clock toasted walnuts that I chopped. Also, somewhere underneath, are chunks of chicken torn off the previous day’s chicken carcass.
The dressing went like this: a big spoonful of spicy French mustard, a drizzle of good honey from the farmer’s market, a glug of white balsamic vinegar (though regular balsamic would work too), a pinch of salt, a grinding of pepper, then constant whisking as olive oil is emulsified into it (that happens easily with the honey and the mustard).
Pour the dressing over the salad and toss with your hands and there you have a lunchtime salad a step above a typical lunchtime salad. Plus: it’s purple which, incidentally, is my mom’s favorite color. Did you know we had a purple couch in our living room growing up?
Where was I?
Oh yes, new friends, dinner parties, last minute cancellations.
Well, in happier news, my friend John had a birthday last week for which I was enlisted to make a salad. It was a surprise party and I was very good at keeping it a secret even though I saw John several times before the surprise was revealed.
The last time I made a salad for a party at John’s it was an Oscar party and the salad that I made–Glen Cous Cous Salad with Albert Knobbs of Feta–came in 2nd place to Tinker Tailor Shepherd’s Pie.
I doubled the quantities because I was feeding 12, but if you’re not doing that, you place 1 cup quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/4 cups water in a pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat, let stand, covered, for five minutes; then you fluff it with a fork and spread it on a cookie sheet to cool all the way.
This technique–of cooling the quinoa before you dress it–is the opposite of my technique from my Quinoa Converter post where you dress the warm quinoa so the dressing soaks in. I imagine this strategy has to do with texture; by cooling it before you dress it, the quinoa probably stays firmer. I’ve noted that for next time.
Now, for the dressing, you’re supposed to mince garlic and whisk it with lemon juice and olive oil until you have a dressing. I decided to do this in my mortar and pestle so the garlic really got pounded and creamy and worked its way more naturally into the dressing. So that’s 1 garlic clove in the original (I used 3)…
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (again, I used more)…
And 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil whisked into it along with salt and pepper.
To assemble, toss the quinoa with some of the dressing to taste then prep your other ingredients: 1 large English hot house cucumber or 2 Persian cucumbers, cut into 1/4″ pieces; 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved; 2/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley; 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint; 2 scallions thinly sliced.
Put those on top of the quinoa in a large bowl:
Pour on more dressing, toss all around to taste, and adjust with salt, pepper, and more dressing as necessary (if you run out of dressing and find it still needs more of a kick, add more lemon juice).
Voila: a Quinoa Tabbouleh fit for a surprise party.
And there you have it…two salads created under very different circumstances. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there somewhere? When life hands you bitter radicchio, sweeten it up with honey in the dressing? Or: friends are people who ask you to bring quinoa to surprise parties?
I’ll work on the metaphor; in the meantime, enjoy your salad.