By some blessing of the gods, it is 85 degrees in Boston today. EIGHTY-FIVE. Verging on too hot, yes, but only because we've had no time to prepare. Predictably, David is furious and I am in heaven.
Some of my favorite things to eat when it's hot out (besides ice cream, of course) are cold mixed salads that you can throw together one afternoon and leave in the fridge for several days, forking at will. I was recently bewitched by Janet Fletcher's article, "Ancient Grain for Modern Times," in which she extols the virtue of bulgur--a manifestation of the wheat kernel that is cracked, cooked, then dried, and sold in (usually health food) grocery stores. I decided to throw together a version of the kisir salad she talks about in the article, using what I had on hand.
What I did not have was bulgur. Oops. What I did have was quinoa, a fast-cooking grain from South America that you should be eating more of. It's about the size of cous cous and it's a complete protein, so it makes for a well-rounded vegetarian meal. Buy some.
Lastly, let me say nothing tastes like summer the way mint tastes like summer. It's fresh, it's sharp, don't skip it in this recipe.
Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad
(serves 2, unless you're me, then only 1)
1/2 cup quinoa
2 inches of cucumber, sliced then halved
4 radishes, ends cut off, then sliced and halved
1 medium tomato diced or a handful of cherry tomatoes halved***
1/2 inch slice of red onion, chopped
1 cup beans
2 Tbsp chopped mint
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp grated hard cheese
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
- Bring a small pot of water with quinoa to boil. Stir grain around and cook until you see little curly parts separating from the grain (you'll know what I mean when you do it), about 5 minutes. Drain in a fine mesh sieve and run cold water over.
- In a bowl, mix together rinsed quinoa and cucumber through cheese. In another small bowl, whisk together vinegar and oil with lots of salt and pepper. Pour over veggie bowl and toss.
- Eat all at once or store in the fridge.
You can be creative with the grain, but I like how the small quinoa clings to the other salad bits; also think bulgur (obviously) or cous cous (preferably whole wheat). I had black beans cooked, so I used those, but kidneys, white beans, and many others will do fine. For cheese, I used manchego, which is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese, nice and salty. Parm, asiago, romano, feta, or even farmer's cheese would be good. Just pick something salty. As usual, go with what you've got in the vegetable drawer, just make sure you pick things that are fresh and crunchy, because the beans provide all the mush you need.
***If you're not up for a food-inspired life lecture, stop reading now. Barry Eastbrook published an article in last month's Gourmet on the virtual slavery in which tomato harvesters in Florida live. These people are deceived into traveling to the farms, then kept in involuntary servitude indefinitely. There are chains. There is physical abuse. Yes, most of these workers are illegal. Does this mean they deserve whatever conditions they can get? I really, really hope your mental answer to that is "no." And let me save you the suspense -- conditions in Mexico are not better. You guessed it, they're worse.
The good news is that a coalition has formed for/by the workers and even the governor of Florida is warming up to them. If you want to figure out how to make sure you don't buy slavery tomatoes or support large-scale efforts to change the purchasing practices of food industry giants, go to the website for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Listen, I'm not trying to go all Jane Fonda on you, but we vote with our dollars every time we go to the grocery store. While we have access to an incredible diversity of food and food products (I am certainly not complaining there), our food system is full of real problems. There are more reasons than just health to know where your food comes from.