Crimson red, forest green, flecks of gold and snow-capped white. Absolutely everywhere? Yep, that’s the Christmas season for you. Alternatively, you could be sitting in a camp Italian restaurant waiting for garlicky pasta marinara… but since it’s December, let’s go with the former.
Hm, Christmas. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost upon us… in nine days to be exact. I’m only half way through my Christmas shopping but I’ve already celebrated three times this month; with work, family and most recently, with friends around an apartment barbecue. This gathering, albeit informal, contained pretty much all that I love about Christmas. We shared great food and weird stories around an improvised table before crashing on the floor to watch Charlie the Unicorn with rich cocoa brownies and wine in mismatched glasses.
Strangely, there was no tinsel in sight. No pudding either. We did, however, celebrate the year that was, whilst thanking God for His strength that brought us through every circumstance. Now, I know that for some people ‘religious talk’ is a big turn off in any context, especially in an otherwise non-religious blog post. But since it’s December, nine days away from Christmas, please grant me one line: I believe that Jesus Christ is the one gift that matters, the Saviour for all eternity and the biggest reason to lift our hearts in celebration this Christmas and always.
There, that’s it. If you’d like to find out more, or if you have no idea what I’m going on about, take a look here (also check out Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20). If you don’t want to bother, then don’t. Okay, on with the recipe post.
In my opinion, today’s recipe is perfect for a balmy Australian Christmas. It’s deliciously light, fresh and healthy but will add a touch of Christmas colour and complexity to your festive table. The main ingredients you’ll need are quinoa, pomegranate, mint and preserved lemon. I’ve discussed quinoa previously in my Honey Chia Muesli Slice post, but in a nutshell it’s the seed of an Andean flowering plant that’s full of vitamins, complete protein and minerals. It’s both delicious and good for you, especially when complimented by complex flavours such as goat’s cheese, mint, pomegranate seeds and toasted nuts.
This salad was happily devoured at our communal barbecue with creamy potato and bacon salad, Heirloom tomato salad, fresh kaiser rolls, homemade beetroot relish, chicken kebabs and garlicky Scotch fillet steaks. It’s a beautiful feeling to bring joy to people through the medium of food, especially during the holiday season. I hope that this recipe will become a valued (and healthy) part of your festive repertoire this Summer.
Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint
Serves 3-4 as a light meal or 6 as an accompaniment
- 3/4 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
- 1/4 cup dry organic black Royal Quinoa
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, a few leaves reserved
- 2 quarters (or half) of a preserved lemon*
- 1 pomegranate, seeds removed, pith and skin discarded (see below for preparation tips)
- 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or Danish feta
- 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, lightly toasted then coarsely crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
- extra virgin olive oil
- juice of half a fresh lemon (or to taste)
- sea salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- pomegranate molasses* (optional)
Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour). Drain well, then place your quinoa in a medium saucepan. Add in two cups of fresh cold water, replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Immediately lower the heat so that the mixture simmers gently, then cook with the lid in place for about 15 minutes. When your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes, covered, then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, some sea salt and black pepper. Place into a medium bowl then set aside.
Start preparing your preserved lemon: remove and discard the flesh from the rinds. Rinse the rinds well under fresh cold water then pat them dry with a paper towel. Chop finely with a very sharp knife; first lengthways then crossways as below:
Add the prepared rind to your quinoa, then set aside. Next, remove the seeds from your pomegranate. There are several ways to do this without resembling a blood-splattered butcher, but my favourite method is practiced by Sanam at My Persian Kitchen. Check out her tutorial here. Once you’ve dislodged your seeds, make sure that there’s no remaining white pith, skin or membrane attached then add them to your bowl of ingredients with the chopped mint, crumbled cheese, three quarters of the nuts and an extra splash of olive oil. Mix well, then season with salt and pepper. Add in a little more lemon juice if desired.
To serve, place your quinoa salad into a clean bowl or onto a serving platter, then garnish with a good drizzle of pomegranate molasses, the extra nuts, reserved mint leaves and some black pepper. Serve on it’s own, or as an accompaniment with some grilled harissa chicken and a dollop of mint-infused Greek yoghurt.
- *Preserved lemons are made by quartering fresh lemons and packing them tightly in sterilised jars with salt and lemon juice. After a few weeks, the rind and pith soften into a delicious, slightly salty, intensely lemony condiment that’s perfect to add to salads, tagines, and pretty much any other North African or Moroccan dish. Read more about preserved lemons here.
- *Pomegranate molasses (above) is a concentrated form of pomegranate juice. It’s sticky, sweetly tart and slightly syrupy, and it adds an extra dimension of deliciousness to this dish if you can purchase some. I order mine via mail from Herbie’s at Gourmet Shopper, see link. It’s also delicious in cocktails or in marinades for chicken or fish.
- Quinoa ratios for cooking: as a general rule, one cup dry quinoa yields about three cups of cooked quinoa. Always use the ratio of one part dry quinoa to two parts water or other liquids. You can also soak quinoa in the same amount of liquid to ease digestive processes whilst maintaining nutrients in an almost-raw state. See this tutorial for more details. It also helps remove some of the bitter saponin that I mentioned above.
- Feel free to experiment with various stocks and soaking liquids to add extra flavour. I’ve also cooked quinoa in water with a splash of maple syrup to create a sweet-ish breakfast porridge, crowned with fresh creamy ricotta, toasted almonds, a sprinkle of cinnamon and grated orange zest. So delicious and so good for you.
- Quinoa adapts incredibly well to any recipe that calls for seeds or grains. I’ve used it successfully as a substitute for bulgur in Tabbouleh whilst also reinventing salads traditionally inhabited by Couscous. You’ll be pleased to know that it completely overwhelms the nutritional value of each.