My hand shakes with excitement, nearly spilling the hot green tea in my mug onto the (print) newspaper in front of me. I lean closer, frantically scanning the recipe for any deal breakers like a sixteen hour prep time, obscure ingredients I can’t afford or something truly repulsive to my tongue like olives.
I shake my head in amazement.
Nothing. No crazy steps or skills required, and not a single thing I want to omit or dispel in favor of something else.
Again, I exclaim to the walls that can’t respond back, “How did I miss this?!”
I look forward to reading the LA Times Food section on Wednesday morning as much as I look forward to watching a new episode of “Glee” or eating a really good piece of chocolate. I giddily collect it from my front stoop, molesting the covers of the Business and Sports sections in my frantic search for my favorite part of the paper.
“What restaurant is SIV going to coddle or shun today?”
“Will Noelle Carter make my sugar plum dreams come true with the recipe for Huckleberry’s Salted Caramel?”
“And what cuisine or food will the LA Times test kitchen feature?” I’ll think as I sit down at my table with the paper and my habitual bowl of peanut butter oatmeal.
On this particular Wednesday, they are featuring the kitchen’s best recipes of 2009, and one of them – the one that is causing me to pose unanswerable questions to the walls – is a quinoa salad with shiitakes, fennel and cashews. A salad with all my favorite ingredients. A salad that I have to make right away lest it become a tattered, yellow page in the mass of clippings and printouts on the floor of my bedroom.
I missed it on January 14th, 2009 when Amy Scattergood originally shared the recipe with LA Times readers, but I won’t let it get away from me now. It won’t become another recipe that gets lost in the shuffle of my cluttered life.
The next night, I ignore the urges telling me to do something safe – something easy that doesn’t require a special trip to Whole Foods for ingredients that will most likely subsequently grow limp in the refrigerator crisper – and I make the salad almost exactly as written.
I pour myself a glass of wine to accompany the meal that I round out with teriyaki chicken and sugar snap peas – I deserve it – and then I inhale the contents of my plate with a ferocity that some might call barbaric. That some might say is unbecoming of ladies, children and even babies who lack the capacity to hold their own utensils.
The walls, however, say nothing.
Quinoa Salad with Shiitakes, Fennel and Cashews
Adapted from Amy Scattergood’s recipe in LA Times
¼ cup quinoa
½ cup chicken broth
1 clove garlic
½ cup thinly sliced fennel
½ cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 sliced green onions, both white and green parts
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
Finely grated zest and juice from 1/4th a lime
Chopped roasted cashews for garnish (optional)
Peanut oil (I used olive oil)
Rinse the quinoa under cool running water, then drain well with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer. Heat a wok (I used a large frying pan with no problem) over medium-high heat and toast the quinoa, shaking the pan frequently, just until the grains dry, are just beginning to color and have a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes.
In a small, lidded pot, bring ½ cup chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 15 – 20 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the wok again over high heat. Add a teaspoon of peanut (or olive) oil and heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir in the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds (the garlic can burn quickly). Remove the garlic, keeping the oil in the pan, and set aside.
Add the fennel to the oil and fry, stirring or tossing frequently, until it is caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oil and set aside. Add the shiitakes to the oil and stir-fry until caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the green onions in with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry just until the green onions begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the mixture and stir or toss to combine. Add the quinoa, fennel, garlic, parsley, cilantro, lime zest and juices and mix together. Serve immediately and top with cashews.