Fig, Pine Nut, and Quinoa Salad

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I hate jewelry commercials. Particularly around Valentines Day and Mothers Day, it seems I’m constantly bombarded with radio ads, insinuating that the size of the rock you give your wife/mother/girlfriend directly reflects the depth of your love for her. Mostly, they make me feel annoyed, because I don’t want to be included in this huge male guilt-trip and because I don’t want jewelry as a gift. It doesn’t even make it into my top ten of desired gift items. I suspect many of you women (and men) out there feel the same. My favorite gift, though, is perhaps somewhat unusual. Yes, I would always choose dried fruit or nuts over a ring. (Although, I suppose I would have found it a bit unusual if Ryan had proposed with a platter of dates. But I would have enjoyed eating them!)

So it was that I found myself recently with a lovely container of dried, black mission figs and a bag of pine nuts. I considered carefully how to use them, particularly the pine nuts, as these are precious ingredients that rarely make their way into every day recipes at my house. I didn’t want to waste them. Then inspiration struck: a savory quinoa salad/sort-of-pilaf. (I’m not exactly sure what the definition of pilaf is, but I think I know it when I see it. Is rice technically required, or will any grain do?)

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The combination of flavors here is riotously different. I love the sweet bursts of chewy, dried fig chunks combined with the buttery toastiness of the pine nuts and the savory fried greens and onions. I think walnuts would work if you don’t have pine nuts handy. I’d also be curious to try this with other grains, but I like that the high-protein content of quinoa makes this a complete meal. I served this with rustic bread, sliced thickly and topped with avocado, tomato, and arugula. It made a fantastic lunch.

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Speed it Up: This is a quick recipe, but you can do all the prep work ahead of time if need be, and then it will take only a minute or two to assemble the salad. I would not combine the ingredients, though, more than 30 minutes or so before serving or, if you must do that, leave the pine nuts out and add them right before eating. This salad is lovely warm or cold, but I prefer room temperature or slightly warm to chilled, so if I made this ahead of time, I would take the quinoa out of the fridge early enough to take off the frosty edge.

Special Diets & Allergies: Dairy free, soy free, vegan, vegetarian, wheat free. I know some people with nut allergies can eat pine nuts, so perhaps this could be called “not nut free but ok for some people with nut allergies.”

Fig, Pine Nut, and Quinoa Salad

Serves 4 – 6

This is a delightful dish for potlucks or light lunches. The contrast of sweet and savory is unusual and delicious. The combination of sweet dried fruit and oily toasted nuts—so common in desserts—is fantastic in this quick salad. Serve it alongside a main dish, sandwiches, or soup, or make it the main course and compliment with bread, a green salad, and fresh fruit for a light meal.

Ingredients:

2 C quinoa
2 C vegetable broth
1 3/4 C water
1/3 C pine nuts
2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, skinned and chopped
6 C chard, washed and chopped, with stems and leaves in separate piles
1/2 C dried, black mission figs, chopped in large chunks
Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Dry toast the quinoa in a heavy-bottom saucepan, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the grains start to pop, turn golden brown, and let off a nutty fragrance.
  2. Add the vegetable broth and water, raise heat to high, cover, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 15 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. In a medium-sized skillet, toast the pine nuts. Cook them over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown. Watch them carefully to prevent burning. Remove them from the skillet.
  4. Pour the olive oil into the skillet. Sautee the onion and chard stems in the oil until tender. Add the chard leaves and sautee another 2-3 minutes, or until it is wilted. Remove from the heat.
  5. Once the quinoa has cooled a bit (you want it warm or room temperature, not straight-out-of-the-fridge cold or piping hot), fluff it with a fork, then scoop it into a large serving bowl. Toss the quinoa with the sauteed chard, figs, and pine nuts. Add salt to taste.

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