We were ahead of our time.
Flashback 1993: big hair, dark red lipstick and restaurant baseball cap on backwards. Clogs and Chef’s Wear baggy pants with wild prints on them (come on, if you worked in a restaurant in the 90’s you know you wore them too).
I was part of the opening team of a new restaurant with an ambitious concept; “healthy food”, whole grains, no red meat, lots of seafood, organic produce whenever possible, and no hard alcohol. There was a “harvest table” with a daily selection of incredible salads and vegetables, most made with the aforementioned whole grains and organic produce. The matchbooks were filled with wildflower seeds not matches. We had the best of intentions and everyone was excited to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, the healthy concept and the harvest table did not last long, victims of the times, the location, poor PR, or maybe all three. The seafood stayed, but added to it were steaks, liquor and more affordable commercially grown produce. Gone was the harvest table and those luscious vegetable salads.
Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant was wonderful. It adapted to the wants and needs of the community (red meat and cocktails) and still kept some some of it’s original quirkiness (we had those seed packets for years). But I’ll never forget the promise of that harvest table because it’s where I first learned about quinoa.
Quinoa is an ancient grain, thought to be cultivated by the Incas. It has more protein than any other grain and contains eight amino acids making it a complete protein. It’s lower in carbs than other grains, adaptable (can be ground into flour, used in place of rice or cous cous) and is gluten free. I’ve tried both red and brown quinoa and prefer the red as it seems to hold up better to the cooking process. This salad wasn’t on the harvest table back in the day, but it could have been. It’s fresh, clean, and perfect for a late Spring lunch.
Yes, we were ahead of our time way back then. Even though fast food places are still pumping out crap like the “double down,” there seems to be a resurgence today in a desire to eat healthier and more sustainably than in 1993. “Sustainable” wasn’t even a word used with food until a couple of years ago. Maybe it’s due to movies like Food Inc., or a dawning realization that we cannot continue deplete the planet, or maybe it’s just the trend of the moment. But people are more conscious of these issues now than they were in 1993 when cigars, steak houses and bourbon were the trend. I like to think our harvest table would not only survive in today’s environment, but thrive.
Spring Quinoa Salad with Shrimp, Asparagus and Corn Recipe
Printable Recipe in PDF
2 cups water
1 cup red quinoa
1/2 lb asparagus
1 ear fresh corn
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 cucumber (about 5 oz)
12 oz U31-40 shrimp, cooked and peeled (about 25 pcs.)
Herb Lime Vinaigrette Recipe
2 oz fresh lime juice (about 2 fresh limes)
1 shallot, minced
4 oz extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse and drain the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Combine the 2 cups of water and the quinoa in a 2 qt. sauce pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. The grain should be soft and the germ should be visible. Spread out on a baking sheet to cool.
Clockwise from top left; dried red quinoa, rinsed and in the water, cooked (kernal is visible), cooling on a sheet pan.
2. To cook the asparagus and corn, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus (cut about 2 ” off the bottom of the spear). Have a large bowl of ice water ready. Cook the asparagus spears in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes and then using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove them from the water and plunge them into the ice water to stop them from cooking. You want the asparagus to be tender-crisp. In the same boiling water cook the ear of corn for 5 minutes and then put it in the ice water too.
3. Cut the asparagus on the bias into 2″ pieces. Cut the corn off the cob and separate the kernels. Cut the red bell pepper into julienned strips, about 1/4″x2″. Peel the cucumber, cut into 2″ sections and then into 1/4″ strips.
4. Juice the limes, mince the shallot, and chop the herbs. Whisk together the lime juice, shallots and olive oil. Add the fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.
5. Put the quinoa, vegetables, and shrimp into a large bowl. Add all of the dressing and combine. Taste, check for seasoning and adjust as needed.
*You can use any herbs you like. I had the mint, oregano and parsley growing in my garden so that’s what I used. I really like the “freshness” that the mint adds to the dish. It always makes me think “Spring” so if I had to pick the most important, it would be the mint.
* If you let this dish sit over night the vinaigrette will absorb into the quinoa. While it will taste great, it may be a little dry and you can freshen it up by adding a bit more olive oil and a squeeze more fresh lime juice.
* This salad can easily be vegan by omitting the shrimp. Without the shrimp it makes a wonderful side salad or even vegetarian main course.