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Quinoa and Asparagus Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Lurking behind the shiny exterior of this homepage is a Drafts folder, containing every post I’ve ever started. And friends, I could make an entire second blog out of the posts stuck in draft-purgatory. There’s a parsnip cake I made for my mom’s birthday back in 2011; a winter citrus salad that I keep meaning to tell you about while it’s still…well, winter; a tremendous zucchini gratin that I will tell you about in just a few short weeks, when summer decides to make an appearance for good; and about 15 quinoa recipes, none of which I deemed delicious enough to share.

Thing is, I am no big fan of quinoa. Try as I might, I can’t love the stuff. I wish I did: it’s nutritious, cooks up really quickly, and at least purports to be versatile. I’m just not the biggest fan.

But last week, fresh on a tear to use up all the little bits of things in the bottom of jars in my kitchen, I came upon some quinoa, leftover from Passover and languishing at the back of my grain shelf. I’ve been trying to cook more economically, and I’ve been having success tucking bits of boring-seeming leftovers into new dishes. I improved my last batch of mujaddara by adding bits of salsa verde-braised green beans. What’s a little quinoa?

And here’s the best part of it all: I actually enjoyed this salad a lot. It’s bits of asparagus, golden raisins, and toasted pepitas for crunch. I’m especially fond of the dressing, which came together unexpectedly well, considering it was yet another attempt to use over bits of things in jars in the fridge. Win-win.

Quinoa and Asparagus Salad with Yogurt Dressing
Serves 6

Notes: I made this recipe to use what I had in the fridge, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same. Feel free to swap out the quinoa for wheatberries, pearl barley, or bulgur. If you don’t have (or don’t like) asparagus (though I’m not sure we can be friends if it’s the latter…), you might finely chop some raw greens, scallions, green beans, radish, or a mixture of these. Consider this less of a prescriptive recipe and more of a starting point. That said, this combination does work really well. -R

For the salad:
1 cup quinoa
1 bunch asparagus (about 10 spears), rinsed, ends trimmed, and sliced on the bias
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

For the dressing:
1/2 cup yogurt
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
juice of half a lemon
half a preserved lemon, diced (I like using the whole thing, but some folks use only the rind and discard the flesh) – or, if you don’t have preserved lemon, check out this helpful post from the Food52 hotline
2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Set a medium pot full of water over medium-high heat. When water reaches a boil, add quinoa, stir to combine, and cook for 15 minutes, until quinoa is cooked through but still keeps its shape. Strain and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add pepitas, a pinch of salt, and the tiniest drop of oil; toss to combine, and cook until you hear one pepita pop. By then, pepitas should have started to turn golden. Remove from the heat and transfer pepitas to a bowl.

Place pan back on the heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and add the asparagus. Cook for about 3 minutes, just until asparagus glisten and start to turn golden in a couple spots. (If you like your asparagus fully soft, continue cooking for 4-5 minutes more.) Spoon asparagus into the bowl with the quinoa, and stir in raisins while asparagus and quinoa are still warm – it helps them plump up.

Make the dressing: Combine the yogurt, preserved lemon, honey, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a jar. Shake to combine. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste (you must add the s&p after adding the preserved lemon, since it is quite salty).

Drizzle most of the yogurt dressing onto the quinoa, stir to combine, and taste. Add more of the dressing if desired. Top with the toasted pepitas just before serving.

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  • Liz Rueven May 21, 2013,

    As I was reading about your dislike for quinoa, I suspected that it was the texture getting in your way. Quinoa’s dry, grainy mouth feel can be unappealing if other elements don’t distract. You have so many great elements here, all moistened with a light bath of yogurty tartness. I think you’ve nailed it. Too soon to say, “welcome to the quinoa lovers club”?!

  • Anne June 21, 2013,

    I do like quinoa – but I sometimes mix it half and half with millet. The two grains cook in the same time, and work much the same way – but millet has a milder flavor (which I find too bland by itself.) The slightly yellower millet also gives it a rather pretty warmer speckled look.

    I hadn’t thought of using preserved lemon in a salad dressing – what a great idea!