Swiss chard is here, my garden teeming with it in rainbow hues. Given my quinoa-centric state of mind, what better pairing can I dream up than the two together? It works!! A gentle saute of sliced chard stalks, plus the chopped leaves and lots of garlic make for an ideal quinoa partner, the grain being a blank canvas to which one can riff in many ways. Swiss chard also speaks to me of raisins and pine nuts, so they make an appearance here too, a warm side dish, a cooled down salad, a leftover to bring to work for lunch.
Let's start by cooking the quinoa. You can boil it like pasta in salted water and drain it when it blooms and softens, a little tail, the germ, emerging from each grain. Place the drained quinoa back into the cooking pot, cover with a clean tea towel and let it sit for 5 minutes. Fluff and serve. Another method for cooking quinoa is to cook one part quinoa to two parts water, covered, for 12 - 15 minutes, until done. Fluff, cover, let sit for 5 minutes, and serve. Both methods work well, so prepare your quinoa according to your preference.
When cooked quinoa is destined for a salad, it is a good idea to dry it out so that the grains remain separate. Thanks to Bob's Red Mill Cookbook for this important pointer. Spread your cooked quinoa onto a baking sheet to cool and dry. You can store cooked quinoa in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Now for the fun, where inspiration, flavour and texture arrive on the scene. Take a large bunch of Swiss chard, rainbow coloured, if possible. Wash the stalks and leaves and pat them dry delicately. It is OK if some water clings to the chard. Snip off the leaves and chop them coarsely. Set aside. Slice the stalks thinly. In a large pan, warm two teaspoons of olive oil and saute the sliced stalks until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add in the chopped chard leaves and 2 - 3 plump cloves of crushed garlic. Cook until softened, tender and fragrant. The Swiss chard will have wilted and cooked down to a mere skeleton of its former, bulky self. Season with salt and pepper and a few gratings of whole nutmeg. Let the chard cool and add it to the cooked quinoa along with a handful of golden raisins and another handful of toasted pine nuts. You may want to dress the salad lightly with a lemony vinaigrette, or just some fruity olive oil and a splash of fresh lemon juice. Finish the salad off with a flourish of fresh herbs, whatever is fresh and abundant in your garden or market. Mint is awfully nice here as is Italian parsley or chives. If you cannot decide on one herb, use a combination. There is no right or wrong here, just the desires of your palate to follow.
Enjoy this delightful creation as a light lunch with a bowl of soup, with some flatbreads and cheese, or as a side to some protein. It keeps very well in the fridge for few days and will nourish your mind and body with its healthful goodness.
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