quinoa salad with spinach, feta, and dill

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Where have I been, you ask? No, I haven’t fallen off a cliff and, no, I haven’t given up on blogging. The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of work, school, and play and I’m only just now catching my breath. I was hoping to make some lemon lime basil cookies to take on my trip to Philadelphia last weekend, but at 11:00 pm the night before we were leaving, I discovered that the huge tub of basil we had in the fridge had gone bad. Since it was so late and I was so tired, I just gave up and went to bed instead.

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We made the trip down to Philly for my niece’s dedication, and it was a great excuse to get out of Boston and spend time with family. Sophie, my youngest niece, was adorable and her older sister, Amelia, was giddy with excitement with all the family there. Not only did we get to catch up with family and meet my sister-in-law’s newest nephew, but we got to do it over an amazing dinner at Yang Ming, considered by some to be the best Chinese restaurant in the country. The appetizers were outstanding and practically a meal unto themselves, and my jumbo shrimp with honey walnuts was even better than what I got in San Francisco. Who knew Bryn Mawr, PA had such good Chinese food?

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Joseph and I also got to have an amazing dinner at Cochon in Philly with my sister and brother-in-law. My trio of pork was outstanding and the entire table was drooling over the braised pork shoulder with mustard sauce that Joseph ordered. We were so full after dinner that the four of us split the poor man’s pudding for dessert. If that’s what poor men eat for dessert, sign me up because it was rich and caramelly and one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. This shortbread dough served in a cup of hot maple-bacon caramel and topped with ice cream is worth a trip to Cochon all on its own if you ask me, although the dinner is nothing to sneeze at.

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The guilt of not posting anything new on the blog for so long has been eating away at me. I’m still determined to make those lemon lime basil cookies at some point, but for the time being, I hope I can make up for my long absence by introducing my new favorite dish of the season (yeah, that’s right, I put these even above the deviled eggs with prosciutto!). Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to this quinoa salad  with baby spinach, feta, and dill.

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If you’re not familiar with quinoa, it’s a grain-like crop (I always thought it was a grain, but just learned it’s technically a chenopod) that’s about the size of couscous, but way more nutritious. It’s high in protein, dietary fiber, and even has  essential amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. And it’s gluten-free and easy to cook. What more could you ask for?

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They’ve been eating quinoa for centuries in the Andes, but only recently has it become more readily available in mainstream US supermarkets. I first had quinoa when I was in Bolivia in 2001 volunteering with Amigos de las Americas (BTW,  I can’t recommend this nonprofit highly enough), and really liked it, but I don’t think I saw it in a store in the States until a couple of years later. Even though it’s become easier to find, I really haven’t been taking advantage of it, which is a real shame. Not only is it a nutritional powerhouse and easy to make and serve, but it’s really tasty. It’s got a slight nuttiness and a light bite to it that I really enjoy. Not to mention it, is really, really good in this dish.

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We don’t cook with dill a whole lot, but I have to say I really enjoyed the fresh herbiness that it adds here. The pine nuts add a light nutty crunch, while the spinach gives it color and substance, the lemon adds bright acidity, and the feta rounds it all into a wonderfully fresh, creamy, delicious meal. And it’s healthy. It would be a perfect side for a Mother’s Day brunch, a spring dinner, a summer picnic, or to make ahead to pack for lunch for the week. So please accept this as my apology for my long absence and enjoy! And keep your eyes out for the best margarita recipe ever which I promise to deliver just in time for Cinco de Mayo….

Quinoa Salad with Spinach, Feta, and Dill

Yield: 4 servings

Adapted from Everyday Maven via An Edible Mosaic

I really love lemon, so we doubled the amount of lemon juice and even added some zest. Even then, it doesn't hit you over the head with lemon, so don't be afraid to give it a try. We also increased the amount of dill because we just threw in the entire package of what we got at the store. If you're not so into dill, you can half the amount below. If you want to add some juiciness, I'm sure some halved grape tomatoes would work well in this dish, but I have to say, I love it just the way it is.

It's important to rinse quinoa because though the quinoa you buy in the store has already been stripped of its bitter casing, some of the residue may remain. You'll need a very fine mesh strainer or you can use a cheesecloth or even a coffee filter. While we used plain quinoa, you can use any kind you want - I've heard the tri-color blend at Trader Joe's is really good. Also, if your store has a bulk section, keep in mind that it will be cheaper to buy it from the bins rather than the prepackaged bags.

Ingredients

    For the quinoa
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups broth or water 
  • For the spinach mixture
  • 1/3 cup organic pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more for serving
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 

Instructions

  1. To make the quinoa, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; once hot, add the oil.  Add the quinoa and toast for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the garlic and spices, and cook 30 to 45 seconds, stirring constantly. 
  2. Slowly add the broth or water and bring to a boil; cover, lower to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let covered pot sit for 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl to cool. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat; once hot, add the oil.  Add the onion and cook until caramelizing, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cook 5 minutes more. 
  4. Add the spinach and 1 tablespoon water; cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes until the spinach is completely wilted.  Remove the spinach and onion mixture from pan and let cool (you don't want it to melt the feta!) 
  5. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes, turning and tossing frequently (or do it in a toaster oven but keep a close eye on them so they don't burn and stir a couple of times so they cook evenly).
  6. Toss the quinoa with the chopped dill, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest if using, pine nuts, feta cheese, remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, ground nutmeg, coriander, and spinach-onion mixture. 
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 quinoa salad with spinach, feta, and dill

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