Wilted Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Spicy-Sweet Vinaigrette
August 27, 2011 § 4 Comments
Does anyone else eat croutons straight out of the oven? As is? I was planning on making this salad into a panzanella using challah bread but I accidentally ate all of the challah croutons I had toasted before I even started the rest of the salad. I found out that challah makes the best croutons I have ever tasted. The croutons ended up being my lunch and this salad became dinner a few hours later. Weird day. Fortunately the salad is still delicious without croutons, as the original inspiration of the salad in crouton free.
My friends Cat and Ron make a version of this salad which I tried this weekend. We spent this past weekend at the coast with some friends for a birthday and Cat and Ron treated us to their spinach, quinoa, mango and spicy cashew salad (and plenty of tasty mimosas). One couple made baked ziti, another made amazing bleu cheese burgers and I made tomato sauce and pizza dough so that we all could have customized personal pizzas. In that sea of great food, this salad was what stuck out (at least for me). I love being reminded of how great simple can be; your mind is just blown over how good it is as you devour it. When I had a couple servings of their simple salad for breakfast the morning after, I knew I needed to make a version when I got home.
Perfectly cooked quinoa adds great texture to the slightly wilted spinach. I opted to wilt my spinach with freshly cooked bacon rather than the cooked quinoa, but both add an umami quality to the so slightly bitter spinach. Ron and Cat used spiced cashews in their salad while I opted for sunflower seeds and added ground chili pepper and fresh savory to the dressing for spice. Savory has similar qualities to rosemary and thyme with a slight tongue-burning quality, like capsicum, when fresh. The spice in the dressing is fairly mild and almost goes unnoticed due to addition of sweetness from floral honey and acidity from red wine vinegar creating a perfectly flavored dressing for a salad like this and would probably do well with much more bitter greens. I think cashews are more at home in this salad because of the fat, chewy crunch they lend, but the sunflower seeds I used were also excellent. Slightly rehydrated dried cranberries, segmented citrus in the fall or winter, fresh chevre or even more bacon would all go great in this salad. As I shovel this salad into my mouth, I don’t completely understand why it is so good but all the flavors and textures come together perfectly and every bite is amazing.
Wilted Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Spicy-Sweet Vinaigrette:
inspired by my friends Cat and Ron
serves 1 as a meal or 2 as a side
– 1/2 cup dry quinoa, cooked, fluffed and cooled
– 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
– 1/4 tsp honey
– 1/8 tsp ground New Mexican Chile Pepper
– 1 tsp fresh minced savory
– 3 tbsp oil
– 2 strips bacon
– 1/4 lb spinach (stems removed or baby spinach)
– 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
After cooking and cooling the quinoa, make the vinaigrette by whisking together vinegar, honey, ground chili pepper and salt and pepper (to taste). Whisk in oil and set aside. Fry or bake bacon until crispy, reserve 1/2 tbsp of the bacon grease and allow the remaining grease to drain slightly on paper towels before crumbling. In a bowl, mix the spinach (chopped if it isn’t baby spinach), sunflower seeds and the quinoa (fluffed). Crumble the bacon on top and dress to taste. Poor the reserved bacon grease over the top to wilt the spinach (this step is optional and can certainly be eliminated for the sake of calories/saturated fat, but I would never). Serve while the bacon is still warm and enjoy.