My limited experience with gardening comes from a job I took last summer on an organic farm. It has given me both an appreciation for truly fresh vegetables and a faint stench of manure in my car that I fear will never come out. I have often heard people describe gardening as a spiritual practice, a meditation of sorts. While I don’t share the gardeners’ love for the soil, (nor do I connect dirt encrusted fingernails with a symbol of seasonal pride) I do appreciate and admire those who acquire a green thumb.
A gardener understands the ridiculous nature of the question, “why don’t you just go to the grocery store?” or “you can get fresh produce at the farmers market, why go through all the trouble?” To the gardener this is akin to saying “why bother dating, just head to the brothel!” or “why raise your own children, just send them away and visit them when they graduate from college!”
It is the same with cooking. To cook is to cultivate a relationship with your food. You taste each ingredient and take in the flavors. You want to be there to see the onions start to brown when sprinkled with salt. You smell the nutty aroma release from toasting quinoa. You hear the crisp sound of the knife slicing through carrot.
To me cooking is time well spent. Of course, I could just as easily (and in an equal amount of time) drive to the sandwich shop and watch as uniform laden teens apathetically partition pale pre-sanctioned vegetables and meat circles with plastic coated hands. But then I would be taking my lunch with a stranger, and that could be a very dangerous and unpleasant experience.
Today’s salad is a meditation for the indoor gardener in you. If you actually have an indoor garden (mine consists of one lonely basil plant habitually robbed of all her leaves, which I abandoned last summer and Christina has been humanly watering ever since) then this salad is a perfect way to use some of your fresh herbs.
Rinse 1 cup of quinoa 3 times in cold water, feeling the grains with your fingers as you rinse. Quinoa is coated with saponin, which has a bitter flavor. Rinsing the quinoa gets rid of the saponin, when the rinse water is no longer cloudy the saponin is gone. Drain and set quinoa aside.
Get out a large cutting board. Feel it with your fingertips. Take a moment to imagine the beautiful smells and flavors you are about to enjoy as you layer each ingredient into your salad. First imagine the finely chopped onion sizzling in sesame oil. Now go to your cupboard, get out your favorite saucepan (the one you use for rice) and place it over the heat of your favorite burner. Add some toasted sesame oil. Watch as it melts to cover the bottom of the pan, invading every corner. Dice one very small yellow onion. Chop it until it gets really small rocking your knife swiftly against the board. Feel your eyes start to water (this is more likely to happen if your onion is really fresh, or if you use a white one). Scoop the onion into the hot pan and sprinkle with salt. Skate the onion around in the pan. Add some minced garlic, now more salt.
Scoop in the quinoa and stir until the grains just start to brown and a nutty aroma fills your nostrils. Breathe it in deep. Add 1 cup cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the quinoa sprouts little curly tails and has the poppy feel of sushi caviar in your mouth. Remove the pan from heat and add 1 more clove minced garlic and 2 large diced carrots (add while still hot) stir to cool. Set aside for a bit. Mince 1 bunch sorrel and 1 bunch Italian parsley (actually, use whatever herbs you have in your indoor garden). When your quinoa has cooled, add herbs.
Add some ume plum vinegar, or lemon juice, or rice vinegar if you feel you need more flavor.
This is your salad, so make it your own. Imagine how your loved ones will be nourished by it on a sensory, physical and spiritual level. Enjoy!
Christina's vote: "Refreshing! This salad brought back memories of the boathouses and beatnicks in frogslew on the Mississippi river in Winona, MN."