This salad from the December issue of Fine Cooking caught our eye because it has a little bit of everything. There's hearty red quinoa, gouda cheese, and walnuts to satisfy our desire for deep earthy flavors this time of year. But the arugula and crisp apples are a reminder that fresh things are on the way.
The full title of this recipe is "Quinoa Salad with Apples, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, and Gouda," but those ingredients are really just the beginning. The salad also contains shredded arugula, fennel, celery, dried cranberries, and red onions, all held together with a simple sherry vinaigrette.
There's a lot of prep work for this salad, for sure. All those fresh veggies have to be diced into tiny little pieces. Slicing the slender arugula leaves into thin ribbons was especially time-consuming. Four ounces doesn't sound like a lot on paper, but it's the equivalent of several very large handfuls. The onions also get a quick sauté over medium heat and a splash of balsamic.
But all this prep work is worth it's this fine-chopped texture that makes this salad really stand out. You get a little of everything in each bite. First you taste the arugula, then the creamy gouda, then maybe a sweet shot of apple or a bit of slightly bitter walnut. The tiny quinoa grains pop between the teeth. Who knew eating a salad could be so much fun?!
This said, there's a lot going on here and some things get lost in the muddle. The fennel completely disappears between the similar licorice flavor of the arugula and the crunch of the celery. And while the celery adds texture, we couldn't discern its flavor anywhere. The dried cranberries seemed like an after-thought to everything else on the ingredient list - we wanted either more of them or none of them. And while we were initially really excited about the idea of cooking the onions in balsamic, they didn't really seem to add much to the final salad. We almost would have preferred the sharper flavor of raw onions to add more brightness to the overall dish.
Maybe this is one of those dishes with star ingredients (gouda, arugula, quinoa, apples, walnuts) and then supporting actors (everything else) that you don't notice but would miss if they were gone. We're curious to try a trimmed-down version of this recipe to see if that's the case.
On the plus side, this salad makes a lot and is very filling. We made it on Sunday and plan on eating it for lunch all week long. It would make a great vegetarian main course at a dinner party, or could also be used as a bed for grilled salmon or roasted chicken.
This salad is interesting enough that we'll definitely make it again, though with some tweaking. The gouda, shredded arugula, quinoa, apples, and walnuts will stay, but we'll want to play around with the rest.
What do you think? Any suggestions after looking over the recipe?
• Get the Recipe! Quinoa Salad with Apples, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, and Gouda from Fine Cooking
Related: Five Ways to Eat Quinoa
(Image: Emma Christensen)