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New Beginnings & Red Quinoa Salad

Posted Aug 31 2009 9:41pm

It was a bit of a melancholy day here at Enlightened Cooking. Nicky's first day of "real" pre-school begins tomorrow. Up until now, he's only gone to Mother's Day Out two times per week from 8-12 (although, more like 9-12; though he wakes at the crack of dawn, he slow out of the door). Now it's a regular schoolday, five days per week. He got a much-coveted spot at University preschool, so I am thrilled on the one hand, but missing him--already--on the other.

So we spent the morning making tents throughout house & kicking the soccer ball around the back yard, then I packed picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit to take to the pool at noon. The weather has turned unseasonably cool (below 90 degrees) for this time of year, so it was an idyllic day; plus, we had the pool to ourselves, save for a lone lap swimmer who decided that 10 minutes of freestyle was plenty.

In between the tent-making and pool-swimming, I made a first: birthday salad. It's my friend Lindsey's birthday today. I know it's not possible, but I think Johnny Mercer had Lindsey in mind when he penned "Too Marvelous for Words." That being said, salad might seem a strange choice of preparation. But I knew she would like it--namely, a red quinoa salad chock full of delicious things--for several reasons: (a) I suspect she already has a cake; (b) she is much of a sweets-eater; (c) we have a mutual adoration of whole grains; she loves my bulgur orange salad; and (e) on a trip to NYC the summer before last, we reveled in the whole grains salads at Whole Foods for multiple meals.

I made the salad while Nick made a card, then delivered all (along with another gift) on the way to the pool. As we pulled away from Lindsey's house, Nick asked, "Is Lindsey your sister?"

"Well, no, she's just my friend, " I answered.

"Hmm," Nick pondered from the backseat. "No, I think she is, Mommy."

"You know, you may be right, Nick," I replied, "I sure do love her as much as a sister.""Yeah, me too, Mommy."

Happy Birthday, Lindsey. We love you.

Lindsey's Red Quinoa Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Dried Fruit, & Herbs

1 cup red quinoa (or regular quinoa)
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon graed orange zest
2 teasoons agave nectar (or honey)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
3 green onions, ends trimmed, thinly sliced (both green & white parts)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

Bring the quinoa, water, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. (Some germ rings may separate from the grains and will look like white squiggles--don't panic, this is normal, and most importantly, edible) Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and turn out onto a baking sheet to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, orange zest, agave nectar, and mustard until blended; season with salt & pepper to taste. When cool, fluff the quinoa again and transfer it to the bowl with the dressing. Add the walnuts, cranberries, apricots, green onions. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate to let the flavors mingle, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Before serving, let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Stir in the mint. Taste and add more salt as needed. Makes 8 servings.

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