Transition Salad: Warm Quinoa Salad with Butter-Poached Apples, Pecans, and Feta on a Bed of Sautéed Leeks and Rapini

This salad isn’t inherently a harbinger of change, but I’m calling it that because boy-oh-boy the times they are a changin’, and for me, this salad is a very clear representation of the current shift in my life. For starters, it is the very first recipe I am posting on this blog. Woo woo! Also, I created this on the same day I told my chef that my time at the café is coming to a close. What a day! What a salad!

In case I am running the risk of sounding cavalier, let me clarify: I am terrified. I am excited. I am aware of the gravity of my choice, and unaware of exactly what the future will hold.

My chef is a friend, a young and talented cook, a mentor who gave me my first real shot at working in a restaurant kitchen. Telling him that I am leaving, for the simple reason that my heart tells me that it’s time, was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Unlike most chefs you hear about, mine isn’t a self-absorbed, yelling, crazy person. He’s an enthusiastic, loving person who will walk into the kitchen first thing and say, “Hey, how are you doing lately? Tell me about your life.” And he means it. And he listens to what I say.

So when I told him I had plans to look for something new, he didn’t tell me I was leaving the best opportunity I’d ever been given. Which I am. He didn’t say I was nuts for quitting a stable and flexible job during a down economy. Which I think I might be. He didn’t say that I was ungrateful or unreliable for departing. Which I fear sometimes when I make choices in my life that affect others. Instead he told me this: “I get it. You’re a young cook and you have to go where you feel you’re going to learn. I’m not gonna hold it against you. Whatever you decide to do, whether it’s cooking, painting, pastry, or something else completely, I support you.”

That’s my chef. I would dedicate this salad to him, except that he’s a committed carnivore, so this wouldn’t be a very appropriate homage.  In fact, I devised this dish because he called me the other night in slight alarm to say that there were– gasp!– vegetarians planning to dine at our restaurant. 😛 The next time I make lamb stew or pork buns, I’ll dedicate those to him. For now, I’ll just say that I couldn’t ask for a better teacher, a more supportive friend, or a greater chef. Even though it’s time to go, I am sad to leave you and grateful for everything.

This salad stands out because of a contrast of textures and flavors. Texture-wise it’s got pearly quinoa, melty leeks, soft apples, crunchy rapini and pecans, and chewy, crumbly feta. Flavor-wise, the quinoa and veggies are earthy and savory, while the apples add sweetness, the pecans brings richness, and the feta hits you with a kick of tangy saltiness. If you choose to make the balsamic reduction, it adds another layer of acidic sweetness. This dish is pretty nutritionally balanced in addition to having a balanced flavor profile. All around yum.

The Recipe: Warm Quinoa Salad with Butter-Poached Apples, Pecans, and Feta on a Bed of Sautéed Leeks and Rapini

Serves 8

1 1/2 cups quinoa

1 3/4 + 2 TBS water

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

2 leeks

2 bunches rapini

2 TBS unsalted butter

1/2 tsp salt

2 pink lady apples

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup toasted pecans

8 oz feta

If you are using unrinsed quinoa, soak the quinoa for fifteen minutes and then rinse it. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with the rinsed quinoa, water, salt, and cider vinegar. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Then turn off the heat, and let your quinoa rest for five more minutes. Finally, uncover and fluff with a fork. It works every time.

Meanwhile, let’s deal with fruits and veggies.

Halve and slice the leeks into half inch sections. Chop the rapini into forkable sections, one-inch wide works great. The stems cook somewhat like broccoli stems, so I like to include them for texture variation. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan. Cook the leeks on medium until translucent but not browned. When the leeks are almost fully cooked, add the rapini and salt. Cover the pan; the moisture from the leeks will help steam the rapini. Cook until the rapini stems have only a slight crunch to them, about seven minutes. Set the veggies aside.

Core and slice your apples. I like mine in eighth inch thick slices with the skin on for color and flavor. Melt one stick of butter in a frying pan wide enough for the apples to move around easily. Add the sliced apples and cook them in the butter while stirring to ensure even cooking. Continue until the apples are tender with a little firmness left to them, about five minutes. Remove from heat; drain and discard the excess butter.

Toss the apples and pecans with the cooked, delectably fluffed quinoa. On each plate, lay down a handful of greens. Next, place a scoop of quinoa mix on top. Finally, sprinkle fresh, crumbled feta on top.

For the full restaurant effect, you can drizzle the edge of the plate with balsamic reduction. To make this, cook 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and two tablespoons of brown sugar on medium-low until reduced by half, which takes about twenty minutes.

Eat in times of comfort and times of change. Enjoy!

Making Commitments

Hello blog. Hello world.

I’m writing to say…that I’m writing. I am scared as I commit these words to text. Scared that I won’t follow through, but more scared of the courage and perseverance and kindness to myself that it will take to keep that commitment.

I am writing not necessarily because the words themselves are imperative to me; other forms of expression come more readily these days. But writing is a good place to start. I think if I told myself that I were going to post one new painting a week, or one new recipe, I would falter. I want to post only perfect paintings, or at least fully realized ones, and I want to post only thorough, well-tested, well-photographed recipes. I could put off actually starting and keeping a blog for years. Oh wait, I did that.

But I can’t anymore. Or rather, I won’t. I want to cultivate the practice of sharing. I want to teach myself to take my own creative work seriously, and committing to posting something, anything, once a week, seems like a good place to start. Maybe if I get in the habit of just showing up here, for a moment, to capture an idea or a feeling, I will get comfortable enough to casually post a photograph of a new painting or tap out the measurements to last night’s dessert with a quick pic. I have to teach myself to stop worrying about the outcome and just do the things that feel right.

For now, that is my commitment: post once a week. Be open and see what unfolds.