When I first ate quinoa, my gratitude propelled my love for it more than its flavor. I was desperate for another gluten-free option to replace rice, and I was also on a low-glycemic diet. I can eat wheat and other gluten-protein grains, but several of my friends can’t. So, serving food that everyone can eat, not feel different or left out is my entertaining and personal philosophy. Quinoa is a perfect grain (seed), to eat and a great source of protein for plant-based diets. Ever since my discovery of this recipe, quinoa salad with avocado and dried fruit makes a regular appearance on my dinning table, especially for entertaining.
I discovered this salad recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine 2009, in an article featuring avocado recipes. Next to dark chocolate, avocados are one of my favorite foods. Naturally, the recipe grabbed my attention. During the time, I needed vegan and gluten-free recipes to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. The quinoa salad with avocado turned out to be the perfect option, a two for one deal. Additionally, this quinoa salad turned my attitude around from not just being grateful, but liking quinoa as well. This salad appeals to everyone, not just people who are vegan, vegetarian, or on a gluten-free diet.
There are many reasons why I love this salad and the taste is just one of them. This quinoa salad is just as much about avocados as it is quinoa. With a ratio of about 2 cups of cooked quinoa to 2 whole avocados, you get a creamy avocado morsel in every bite. Being a major avocado fan, I find this significant amount of avocados wonderful. What’s not to love about an avocado in every bite? There is never such a thing as too much avocado.
The dried apricots and raisins adds punch and concentrated flavor. The nuttiness of the quinoa and creaminess of the avocado provide a foundation for the dried fruit to pop. You do not need a lot of dried fruit, a little goes a long way. The deep orange color of the apricots adds a nice attractive element to the salad as well. If you live in an area where apricots are grown, try substituting fresh ones for the dried apricots. The only consideration is, once sliced, apricots get mushy and aged looking after they linger. However, adding a fresh ripe apricot might be worth a try.
The lemon cumin vinaigrette is much brighter than it sounds. Thanks to the absorbing power of the quinoa, the cumin flavor is in the background and does not overpower the delicate flavor of the avocado. The cumin adds a bit of earthiness against the airy and lemony sunshine. The taste of the flavors are unexpected, yet truly complimentary. I love it. The blend of the quinoa, avocado and dried fruits with the dressing is a nice balance of sweet, acid, nuts and earthy flavors. It is not a heavy dressing, just enough to season the ingredients. Therefore, the quinoa salad does not taste or look oily.
The only thing I change is, I like to add fresh herbs when they are available. Basil adds a nice bit of fresh green sweetness, and even parsley or mint works. If you want to add cilantro, substitute the lemon zest and juice with lime and see how you like it. Quinoa and avocados pair well with a variety of herbs and spices, just be careful not to overpower the salad with too much of anything. If you need a more substantial meal or substitute for almonds, chickpeas are also delicious in this salad.
Making this salad reminds me of my hometown in California. I can picture so many parts of my childhood with each ingredient. Eating avocado sandwiches with my friends at a restaurant in Strawberry. Climbing our apricot tree and picking them before the birds got them. But, what really touches my heart is when I rinse the quinoa. Running my hands through the cold, wet and gritty quinoa seeds, reminds me of making sand castles and building forts at Cronkite Beach. It’s usually cold, foggy and the sand is rough. Despite the cold, I love the Marin Coastline and will forever hold it dear in my heart.
Food has a way about savoring old memories and making new ones. Deborah Madison created this recipe, but after making it for so long and cherishing new and old memories, it feels like my own.
If you love avocados, like I do, you will love this quinoa salad. The lemon and cumin vinaigrette is bright with just enough seasoning to blend well with all the ingredients. I make this salad often for entertaining and weeknight dinners.
If you ever need a salad that covers many dietary considerations, this is the one to make. It is perfect for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free diets, as well as a crowd pleaser for everyone.
Use any color quinoa you like. I like the mix the white and red quinoa, but the red quinoa with the green avocado and orange apricot is very appealing.
You can make the salad ahead, but do not add the salad dressing, almonds and avocados until you are ready to serve.
Best eaten the day it is made, but will be ok for leftovers the next day.
Recipe is from Fine Cooking Magazine, by Deborah Madison 2009
3 TB raisins, dark, golden or a mix of raisins
2 TB dried apricots, thinly sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa, or a mix
Zest from one lemon
1 TB fresh lemon juice
3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground sweet paprika
2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
2-3 TB coarsely almonds
Add the raisins and apricots to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Soak the dried fruit for 5 minutes. Drain the water and set aside.
Put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water passing through the strainer runs clear, not chalky. Add the rinsed quinoa to a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook until the water is all absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. You will see the germ ring that will look like a white curlicue around each seed.
When done, fluff the quinoa with a fork and spread out on a sheet pan to cool to room temperature.
While the quinoa is cooking, toast the almonds. Heat a small skillet on the stove at medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add the almonds and stir, shake or flip the almonds in the pan and toast the almonds until they get slightly darker and release their oil. About 1 minute depending on how hot your skillet is. You will start to smell the almonds as they toast. Keep the almonds moving so they do not burn. Immediately remove the almonds from the skillet and cool. Once cooled, rough chop the almonds and set aside.
Make the salad dressing. Finely grate the lemon zest into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika and 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, and whisk until well combined.
In a large bowl add the cooled quinoa, apricots, raisins, avocados, scallions and chopped almonds. Carefully mix the ingredients together. Try mixing them with a fork so you do not squish the ingredients together. Then add the salad dressing. Mix until combined. Spoon into a severing bowl, garnish with chopped almonds, scallions, and lemon zest. Serve at room temperature.
Scattered across my wooded hillside, a native wildflower called Trout Lily is now in bloom. Their yellow bell shape flowers gaze down upon their mottled green leaves, like a swan gazing at its reflection upon the water’s surface. Trout Lilies are the best alarm clock around. A silent wake-up call with a blooming declaration, “No more hibernating. Spring is continuing as planned.” As soon as the trout lilies are up, even sudden changes in temperature or snowfall, won’t deter the season’s purpose.
Every year, larger patches of trout lilies emerge, scattered about my yard like a ragged crazy quilt disguising the dried leaves, fallen sticks and emerging grasses. My wildflowers did not choose a hospitable home, and it’s a wonder to me that they return and mature every year. The hillside is steep and the colossal deciduous trees suck away any nutrients the soil provides. Yet, these trout lilies like it here and that makes me happy. They give me my own little piece of wilderness, camouflaged in Suburbia.
Rumor has it, Trout Lily, got its name because the mottled leaves resemble the speckled coloring of Brook Trout. Another theory is, they bloom at the beginning of trout fishing season. Regardless of the origin of its name, I wanted to honor “my” trout lilies and this blossoming season. Featured today is a recipe for a Spring dinner with Rainbow trout as the main attraction. Unfortunately, where I live in the Northeast I cannot get Brook trout because they are diminishing in population. Fortunately, farm raised Rainbow trout is easily available and a best choice selection according to Seafood Watch.
A Spring dinner of Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill, served with herbed couscous and asparagus, is one of those dinners you don’t have to fuss over or plan for. Just assemble, and put in the oven. There is very little chopping and you don’t have to worry about being precise, (except for the couscous). As always, be careful not to add too much salt, and this dinner will turn out perfect every time you make it.
Substitutions are hassle free as well. If you prefer, change the dill with tarragon, fennel fronds, parsley, or add all the above. Additionally, you can replace dry vermouth with dry white wine or lemon juice. Though, I hope you try vermouth in this recipe. It nicely rounds out the flavors and tones down the acid from the lemon. Most importantly, make sure you use dry Vermouth.
My favorite way to prepare trout is to enclose each fish, or filet, in foil packets and bake in the oven. The fish steams in the packets and produces delicate flaky meat with herb infused juices. I stuff each trout cavity with lemon and dill, then add vermouth for some moisture. This is the same method I used for Salmon with Spinach Butter Sauce. Also, you can make Arctic Char with Basil Sauce using this same technique. Trout, salmon and char belong to the same family and most of the recipes for them are interchangeable with minor adjustments.
Farm-raised rainbow trout is usually sold whole, cleaned, butterflied, and each weighing near one pound (453 g). Depending on the size, one whole fish equals one portion. To me, that seems like a lot of fish. Therefore, I select rainbow trout about one pound in size and consider it enough for two portions. Honestly, they are not large portions, but served with fulfilling side dishes, like couscous and asparagus, a light, healthy and satisfying dinner is at hand.
For a light starch side dish, Couscous is perfect with rainbow trout. It has a slightly nutty taste with a light and fluffy texture. Fortunately, couscous falls in the top 10 list of easiest foods to make. Simply add boiling water to dried couscous, cover and let it steam for 5 minutes. Luckily, I just discovered a simple technique that makes fluffy couscous from Herbivoracious.com. It works better than the directions on the back of the box of couscous. Instead of steaming the couscous in a sauce pan on the stove, it uses a shallow baking dish, large enough for the couscous to cover it in a thin layer. This brilliant idea gives the couscous more surface area and prevents the miniature pasta from getting sticky. It is my experience cooking couscous in sauce pans, that it gets very gummy towards the bottom of the pot.
Another perfect side dish with rainbow trout is, my recipe for asparagus with orange mayonnaise. It has delicate citrus flavor and easy to prepare. For an extra bonus, make the mayonnaise ahead of time for you to enjoy throughout the week. If you wish, you can keep the asparagus hot, and not add it to the ice bath, as directed in my recipe. Additionally, add a little more lemon zest or juice with the orange mayonnaise for more citrus flavor. I also love saffron aioli with asparagus, and it pairs well with the rainbow trout as well.
Fortunately, it does not take a lot of effort to create an elegant and healthy Spring dinner. With little effort, all portions of the meal can be prepared at the same time. For its ease of preparation and flexibility, rainbow trout with lemon and dill, couscous, and asparagus with orange mayonnaise is an excellent choice for the days when you want to spend your time outside. You can get your day in the sun and later enjoy a meal reminiscent of your playtime. The air is so refreshing now, and lots of earthy wonders to discover. I hope you have a chance and enjoy the blooming Spring days ahead.
2- Shy one pound / 453 g Rainbow Trout, cleaned and butterflied*
1-2 lemons, sliced thin across the width
6-8 springs of fresh dill
2 Tbs dry vermouth
2 tsp butter
Extra Virgin olive oil
Heavy duty aluminum foil for making the packets
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
1 cup / 190 g dried couscous
1 cup/ 250 ml boiling water
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp butter (optional)
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1-2 tsp of minced fresh dill or another herb
Pre-heat the oven to 400˚F / 200˚C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the center.
If you wish you can cut the heads and tails off the rainbow trout, (or have your fish monger do it).
Cut 4 pieces of foil, at least 6 inches / 16 cm larger than each fish. Set aside.
Open the trout so both sides are lying flat with flesh side up, then lightly sprinkle the fish with Kosher salt. Scatter small pieces of butter across the flesh, about 1 teaspoon per fish. Lay two or three slices of lemon on one side of the trout. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh dill and top off with another lemon slice. Enclose the lemon and dill filling by moving the unadorned filet over the herbs, like closing a book. Repeat with the other trout.
Take two pieces of foil and place one on top of the other with the dull side up. Drizzle about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil across the center of the foil and smear with your hand to create a nice even coating of olive oil. Place two lemon slices in the center on the foil, then place the seasoned trout on top of the lemon slices. The trout should be centered on the foil. Add a sprig of dill to the fish and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of vermouth. Sprinkle the trout with a pinch of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons.
Bring the long sides of the foil together and fold over into itself, to create a sealed seam. Twist each end tightly to seal the pockets. Set on a rimmed baking sheet.
Repeat with the other rainbow trout.
Place the baking sheet with the trout in the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The timing will depend on how big the trout is and how much stuffing there is. I start checking at the 15-minute mark and check every 5 minutes thereafter. To check, carefully unfold one of the foil packets, being careful to keep your face away from the escaping steam. Lift the top filet of trout with a fork or fish spatula and peer inside. Look near the spine and where the flesh is the thickest to see if the flesh is cooked through. The fish is done when the flesh looks whiter than it is pink, and is flaky. The meat springs back when you touch it, and no longer looks translucent.
To serve, carefully open the foil packets and gently lift the fish onto a plate. Open the trout up and cut down along the spine with a sharp knife. Place one filet on a plate and drizzle the rainbow trout with some of the accumulated juices. Serve with couscous and Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise.
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
Pour the dry couscous in a baking dish large enough for the couscous to cover in one layer less than ½ inch / 1.5 cm. (My dish was oval shape 7" x 10", 18 cm x 25 cm. Any dish will work just be careful it is neither too big or too small).
Sprinkle the couscous with Kosher salt, butter, minced dill and lemon zest. Gently mix together with a spoon or your clean hands.
Boil the water and pour it over the couscous. Stir with a spoon, then tightly cover the dish with plastic wrap. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Once the time is up, unwrap the dish and fluff the couscous with a fork, scrapping the couscous across the dish until it is evenly loosened and fluffy. Keep covered until ready to serve.
You can have the fish monger cut of the heads and tails if you prefer. Or you can leave the fish whole. You can also prepare trout filet with this technique as well. The cooking time will be less, so start checking them around 10 minutes.