A simple salad with balsamic vinegar---I've been using versions of this recipe for years. People always want the recipe but the secret is the kind of balsamic vinegar I use. Get the good stuff. I like this one. You don't need much and it lasts a long time. Check around because I found it on a closeout at a store a few months ago. A little goes a long way--but it's ndespensible in some dishes like this salad.
Last year when the price of quinoa soared, I started using half millet in any quinoa recipe. Quinoa is only grown commercially in South America (Peru/Bolivia), and the cost per pound now is about the same as buying a steak--maybe a little less ($8.50 at the local co-op). Millet, however, is still a bargain at about $2 a pound, and if you are working with a tight food budget, quinoa can push cheap entrees into a more pricey territory.
But my millet was gone, I'd used the last of it and hadn't replenished my stock. And who wants to drive to the store for just one item?
My advice? Put millet on the list and indulge your inner foodie for a day. Go for the fancy balsamic vinegar and use all quinoa. Top it with toasted cashews if you want--it still costs less than the average meat or seafood entree.
Pair quinoa with asparagus, and this simple dish with translucent red onions and balsamic vinaigrette is--well, it's amazing. It's one of those dishes where I wish I had made more before I take the first bite.
Asparagus hasn't made it to my farmers market yet, but it must be close because I've spotted local varieties are in grocery stores.
When selecting asparagus, look for mostly tightly closed spears and more firm, than rubbery stalks. When you buy asparagus in the grocery store make sure the stalks keep sitting in a little water. They dry out fast, so turn the stalks and check the base. Is it cracked and dry? The asparagus could be old and tough. Once you find fresh stalks, buy them and bring them home, remember to store them standing in water, if you want to keep them more than a few days.
Asparagus stalks stored without water, dry out and becomes rubbery.
Roasted with a few Mama Lil's peppers--not even my Cooking Assistant can resist them. I recommend eating them right away.
Until grilling season begins, I vote for roasting asparagus. Buy more than you think you'll need because you'll be snacking on this long after dinner has ended.
Balsamic Quinoa Salad with Asparagus
1 red onion, stem and root end removed, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound of asparagus, rinsed and tough ends removed, slice into 2-inch lengths if desired
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons Mama Lil's Peppers, chopped (optional)
1 cup, carrots, small dice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400F. Spread sliced onions in a shallow baking dish and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, add asparagus spears and toss vegetables with oil. Arrange in a single layer in the baking dish. Roast for 20 minutes, turning vegetables halfway through. Thicker spears may take a little longer. Onions should be just beginning to brown when the asparagus is tender.
While asparagus roasts, bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa, cover, bring to a second boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa absorbs all the water and grains are done. Set aside for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Combine vinegar, oil, garlic, and Mama Lil's Peppers, if desired. Blend into quinoa. Add roasted onions and carrots. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Serve with asparagus spears on top.