At this moment, I have my kitchen door open, and from my table I can see daffodils, new green grass, and yes, leaves. Hallelujah. It's about time. I love winter, and snow, but the leaves are overdue this year and I've missed them. Green leaves mean crunchy leaves on the plate, too — tender lettuce, juicy and crisp. Let's gather up some leaves and eat a salad for lunch; it's time. This one is a light yet nourishing lunch, with red quinoa and avocado to make it just a little more satisfying.
I am pretty simple when it comes to salads. On a weeknight I'll do nothing more than arugula, lemon, and olive oil, with a hefty dose of black pepper. But a lunch salad needs a little something more.
I became addicted to quinoa in salads after eating lunch with Lilian during her kitchen tour. She fed me a big green salad with feta and quinoa, and it was so satisfying. In fact, it was satisfying on a level I usually reserve for richer, more calorie-intensive dishes, like ones with pasta or rice. Just a little bit of quinoa makes this salad more filling, and the red quinoa looks gorgeous against the green leaves. The cheese helps too; the salty, firm ricotta salata is a milder alternative to feta, with a salty tang and pungent freshness.
This salad also does pretty well when made ahead. (Save the avocado for last-minute application.) I've been making sundry versions of this for months, eating leftovers for a week of lunches, substituting fennel when good lettuce is hard to get, throwing in a handful of any nuts I have. I like the sliced almonds here because they are easy to scoop up in a forkful of salad, as opposed to walnuts or pecans which need more forceful spearing.
What kinds of salads are you making this spring? Are you as grateful to see the return of green leaves — both on and off the plate — as I am?
Radicchio Salad with Avocado, Red Quinoa, & Ricotta Salata
For the quinoa:
1/2 cup red quinoa
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the vinaigrette:
1/2 lemon, juiced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce
1 head radicchio
1 large shallot
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled
1 large ripe avocado, thinly sliced
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the quinoa: Heat 1 cup water in a saucepan. Stir in the quinoa, garlic clove, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low, and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes. Spread the cooked quinoa on a large plate to cool.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small food processor or chopper, blend the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, honey, and a generous quantity of black pepper. When creamy and thick, set aside.
Make the salad: Finely chop the romaine into ribbons, discarding the stem end. Core and cut the radicchio into quarters, then slice each into thin ribbons. Finely shave the shallot into thin slices. Toss the romaine, radicchio, and shallot in a large bowl, and toss with the cooked quinoa. Toss with the vinaigrette, and then with the almonds and the ricotta salata. Toss about half of the avocado with the salad. Season to taste with generous amounts of salt. Serve topped with remaining slices of avocado.