Quinoa Salad with Caramelised Shallots, Candied Walnuts, Lemon, and Parsley
Our friends Lucy and Matt moved down to Wellington, and into a flat just around the corner from us. Given the frequency of their visits and the Other Matt's intolerance to gluten, we've had to find a celiac-friendly alternative to my favourite couscous salad.
I have grown rather fond of quinoa for this lately, to the point that - I'm just going to come out and say this - I think I actually prefer quinoa to couscous now. It is gives you the same texture, but with the added flavour and health benefits of brown rice. It really adds to, and bounces off, the flavours in this salad, whereas couscous becomes just another starchy filler.
Win for quinoa!
When making a salad like this, be it with couscous or quinoa, you need to think about two things:
- Textures; you want need something soft (the shallots) and something with crunch (that's the candied walnuts in this case, but you could use toasted pumpkin seeds, or any other toasted nut)
- Flavours; you need something salty (the feta in this salad), something sweet (the candied walnuts and caramelised shallots), something bitter (the abundance of fresh parsley and the nuttiness of the quinoa play on this idea) and something fresh (the lemon zest)
As long as you pick ingredients that tick all those boxes, you can't really go wrong!
This salad in particular definatlely checked all those boxes. And the only thing 'wrong' in this case was the reaction of my friendly celiac, the "Other Matt", to declared this salad "jizz-tastic" and that it gave him a "food boner". High praise indeed. But I might need a second opinion on that. After all, my mother told me I should never to trust strange men. Especially a celiac in a guilt-free feeding frenzy.
Quinoa Salad with Caramelised Shallots, Candied Walnuts, Lemon, and Parsley (serves 6 as a side)
- 1c Quinoa, rinsed
- 1/3 c sugar
- 2T balsamic vinegar (I used a fig-infused balsamic I had in the cupboard. But you could just use ordinary balsamic)
- 1c walnut halves or pieces
- 8-10 shallots, peeled (but not sliced)
- A knob of butter (10-15g or so)
- Pinch of sugar
- A good bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Optional: 200g feta, crumbled into rough chunks
- Good quality olive oil to drizzle
Start by preparing the candied walnuts: Heat your oven to 160 C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the sugar and balsamic vinegar into a small pot and heat, stirring, until the sugar has melted and you have a sticky syrup.
Add the walnuts, and stir to coat. Turn out onto the prepared tray, and quickly separate the walnuts. Be careful here because that syrup is boiling hot. Pop the tray into the oven for 10 minutes or until dark brown and sticky. Set aside to cool completely.
Now cook the quinoa (which is very similar to cooking rice); Warm up a splash of olive oil in a pot. When hot, add the quinoa and toast it for a few minutes. Add 2c water, a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil. Put the lid on, turn down to the lowest possible heat, and let it simmer away for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let it sit with the lid on for a further 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
While the quinoa cooks, caramelise the shallots: heat a glug of oil in a pan. Add the butter, and melt gently. Pop the whole, peeled shallots in the pan, and sprinkle over the pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add a quarter c of water, cover the pan with a snug-fitting lid, turn the heat down and let them cook for 20 minutes or so.
Once the shallots are done, all you need to do is combine everything: break apart the walnuts, add the fluffy quinoa, slice the shallots into quarters lengthwise and add along with the parsley, lemon and feta. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to combine.