Even though this weekend was rainy and a little one the chilly side (“chilly” meaning 63 degrees, now that we’ve been spoiled by 80+ weather for the past couple weeks), I’m pretty sure summer’s official here. In the cool weather, my friends and I hunkered down and watched the World Cup all day. (I’m not even sick of it yet.) But the past couple weeks saw gorgeous weather, which meant hiking, bike rides galore, a barbecue, and a short backpacking trip in the beautiful Columbia Gorge.
While all that makes me sounds like the healthiest person on the planet, really what the last few weeks have been is one giant period of indulgence. I’ve been doing a decent amount of baking, but not doing a good job of taking pictures of it. There have been lots of dessert-fueled going away parties for people at my office. And since we all know summer doesn’t really start in the Pacific Northwest until July 4, these few sunny weeks have led themselves quite generously to patio happy hours. When I say my friends and I “hunkered down” to watch the world cup, I mean we continued our happy hours inside.
So last week, I really needed something healthy for lunch, and this quinoa tabbouleh was just the right thing. I’ve made it once before, in the winter, to combat the cloudiness. But this time, it was just what I needed to set myself back on my normal mostly-healthy track. With tomatoes coming into season, this will be even better for you than it was for me. This salad is the perfect thing to eat for lunch all week, or just what you need to lighten up an indulgent barbecue.
Quinoa Tabbouleh is light but filling. The quinoa has a great nutty taste and texture. Tomatoes add some flavor, red onion a nice kick, and feta just the right amount of saltiness fat. I added chickpeas to the recipe to make it a little heartier. But the real star of the tabbouleh show is parsley. Use the whole bunch – it may look like a lot, but it’s really what tabbouleh should taste like. The original recipe calls for mint, which I could only find as an entire plant, so I omitted it. I think it would be delicious though, so I’ve included it here.
Adapted just slightly from The Kitchn
Makes about 7 cups, enough for 4-6 people or a one-person week-long lunch
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 red onion
2 medium tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley (about 2 cups)
1 bunch mint (about 1/2 cup)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 ounces feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
extra lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the quinoa under cool water for about a minute. Cook according to package directions. The way that’s worked best for me is to bring 2 cups of water to a boil for every cup of quinoa, add the quinoa to the boiling water, cook uncovered until the water is nearly gone (about 15 minutes) and the quinoa is done, then remove from heat, partially cover, and let steam for about 5 minutes. This took me some trial and error, though, and package directions are probably best.
Meanwhile, dice the onion and place it in a bowl with water and pinch of salt. Soaking the onion will remove some of the bite. (I skipped this step last time I made this, but I’ve got a big soft spot for onions.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Dice the remaining tomato flesh. Mince the garlic, parsley, and mint.
When the quinoa is done, empty it into a large bowl and let it cool to almost room temperature. It should feel barely warm to the touch. This will help the dressing coat it without the quinoa absorbing too much.
When the quinoa is cooled, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice with a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture over the quinoa and stir until evenly coated. Stir in the onion, tomatoes, garlic, parsely, mint, and chickpeas. Crumble the feta onto the salad and stir it in gently. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt and pepper as desired.
Serve cold or at room temperature. This tabbouleh is better the next day when all the flavors have combined.
This week was an odd one. Schedules got switched around a lot. Rush projects got started at work. We scrambled to get them started and keep them on track until later the next day, suddenly they weren’t rush anymore. Another project that we thought had been cancelled actually shouldn’t have been canceled, and I’d spent most of the day before working on the one that should have been canceled, staying a little later into the evening than I want to talk about. All day Wednesday I thought it was Thursday. By Friday, the week had gone on way. too. long.
Even though I couldn’t shake the weirdness of this week there were some good things too. Wednesday evening saw a much-needed venting session with coworkers over pizza and beer. Thursday, we woke up to snow! A good 6 inches of it. For the second time this winter, which is about as rare in the Northwest as sunny days are in winter. Friday the snow continued and now we have a foot and half and it’s glorious. That night included getting stuck in a snowy parking lot, crockpot chili, chocolate chip cookies right from the oven, and too many rounds of the endlessly agonizing game Set (the ease of which, if you’re wondering, has an inverse relationship to the amount of gin you’ve had).
So, a weird week, but not a bad one. If I’d had a batch of this risotto sitting in my fridge to comfort me all week, it would have been better. If you’ve never made risotto before, the effort to result ratio is pretty great. No, you don’t get to step away from the pan, but it’s not a difficult thing to make, and the risotto is hearty and filling and warming and just cheesy and rich enough to really feel like an indulgence.
Risotto starts with arborio rice (buy it cheap in the bulk section!), onion, lemon zest, fresh thyme, chili flakes, salt, and pepper in a big skillet. And butter, of course.
Everything gets stirred around a bit until the butter melts and rice is translucent. (It’s not quite translucent status in this picture.)
Then, we add broth to the risotto, let the rice absorb it, stir, and repeat! Simple.
Then because risotto requires cheese, some grated parmesan gets tossed into the mix.
And finally, to add some actual nutrition and protein to this wonderful cheesy mess, we add in some chickpeas.
Give it another stir, a few more minutes on the stove, and your risotto is done!
Top your risotto with some more grated parmesan, a little pepper, and your weird week just got a little better.
This risotto is good. Really good.
Lemon Chickpea Risotto
12 ounces arborio rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch salt (go light on the salt or omit it if you want – the parmesan is plenty salty on its own)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I recommend low-sodium, again because of the parmesan)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
more parmesan, pepper, lemon, and thyme for topping
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the rice, butter, onion, lemon zest, pepper flakes, pepper, and salt to the hot pan. Cook until the butter has melted and the rice and onion are translucent.
Stir one cup of the broth into the rice mixture and allow to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, then give it a stir. Repeat with the remaining three cups of broth, until all liquid is absorbed, the rice is tender, and 18-20 minutes have gone by.
Add the parmesan to the rice and stir until completely combined. Add in the chickpeas, stir, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until heated through.
Top with pepper/lemon zest/cheese and enjoy immediately while it’s warm! This keeps well in the fridge for about 5 days, and is equally delicious eaten cold or reheated.
I think it would be best for all of us if I started this post with a big fat disclaimer: my knowledge of and experience with Indian food is virtually nonexistent. I’ve been to the Indian buffet restaurant in my college town a couple times, a 100% non-sketchy place, unlike a lot of buffets. It pleasantly surprised me both times, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this kind of food, with so many distinct flavors in one pot, gets better as it sits under the warming lamps. I have a curried couscous recipe that I make quite a bit, but I’m not sure it really qualifies as Indian. Other than that, my exposure to Indian food has been limited to those times when you’re in a group or at work or school and one person looks a little uncomfortable, and finally someone asks them what’s wrong, and with a slight grimace and a firm hand on their gut, they say, “I had Indian for lunch.” And everyone nods and exchanges sympathetic, understanding looks, and remembers why they still haven’t gotten around to trying the new place that opened up down the street.
But Indian food has always been intriguing, mysterious in the good way, with its long list of exotic-sounding spices and names of dishes. Curry, turmeric, garam masala (which is actually a mix of spices). Just the ingredient lists are appetizing. So last weekend I decided that the best way to use the two cans of chickpeas in my cupboard would be to try making Indian food. So I poked around for a while and found this recipe on the ever-wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And let me tell you, this dish makes me wish I’d ventured into this vast realm of Indian food a loooong time ago. It’s delicious, people. And really easy, as long as the onions don’t make you cry for too long.
*A note about buying spices. Yes. There are six different spices in this dish. I can hear you thinking it from here, “Spices are so expensive!” They are, if you buy whole jars of them for $4 a pop. BUT, if you buy them the right way, you’ll spend less than $2 on all of them combined. And the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are dirt cheap. Go to the bulk section of your grocery store. Even if you have to go to the fancy grocery store where you’re normally only allowed on special occasions and payday. Because in the bulk section, you can buy just a tiny bit of all these spices, and you’ll pay by weight, and each one will probably cost you 30 cents or so. You’ll never buy a $7 jar of turmeric again. And you won’t have a zillion spice jars that you bought for one recipe and never used again crowding your pantry. Bulk section. Ready set go.
Here are all the lovely spices in this recipe: cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of chopping and grating and eye-watering.
In goes the deliciousness. This is when your house starts to warm up just from the smell.
Simmer a while, and done.
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe
Serves 4-6, or a single lady like me all week
This recipe is a little spicy, a little tangy, and will warm you to the core.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, or 1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
Heat oil over medium head in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and toss in the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and any juices that came with them. Scrape up any onion bits that have stuck to the pann. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve over rice. This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and is great reheated.