The sunshine is here again! As I sit writing this, I am bathed in the glorious (and surprisingly hot) May sunshine that beams down from a near cloudless sky. Could it be that the English summer, driven by enthusiasm and no doubt a whacking great dose of climate change, has come to our shores early this year?
Whatever the cause and however long it intends on staying, it doesn’t take much to draw me outside on a sunny day to wander the lush green woods, heady with the fragrance of wild garlic, keeping my eye out for the bursts of elderflower that are soon to appear. All this sunshine, colour and vibrancy renews me; making me feel lighter and happier. The food I want to cook reflects this: I don’t need comfort or sustenance, or heavy, warming flavours. I want zest and vibrancy, lightness and crunch. I want to eat poached chicken or griddled fish, I want juices and smoothies and big, colourful bowls of roasted vegetables, steamed quinoa and new potatoes. Most of all I want salads: crisp, crunchy, peppery, sweet, juicy, tender and wonderful tasting salads. All the better to match that feeling of delicious rejuvenation: when the sun is out, the birds are singing, a warm breeze blows and you can tuck into a bowl of this glorious quinoa, asparagus and sweet potato.
A word on the quinoa: ideally, if I had been able to get hold of any, I would have used red quinoa for this recipe - both for the added colour and the slightly sweet nuttiness that the red quinoa possesses. Unfortunately it is not as widely available as the white variety, although this does, as you can see, work just as well.
QUINOA, ASPARAGUS AND SWEET POTATO SALAD
500ml/18floz vegetable stock
1 medium sweet potato
A bundle of fresh asparagus
3 celery stalks
1 clove of garlic
50g/2oz pine nuts
2 tbsp olive oil
For the dressing
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp soft brown sugar
Begin by making the dressing. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice and brown sugar in a small bowl, whisk together and then season to taste.
Next, slice each celery stalk in half lengthways and then chop into small pieces. Add the quinoa and stock to a saucepan, cover, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer, keep covered, and cook for approximately 15 minutes until the stock has been completely absorbed. Set aside to cool down.
Preheat the oven to 200c (180c Fan). Spread the pine nuts onto a baking tray and toast in the oven until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool down. Next, prepare the asparagus by taking each individual stem and hold it at its tip and its base. Gently bend the asparagus stalk between your fingers – the asparagus will start to give in one particular spot close to the base – go with the asparagus and continue to bend it until the stalk snaps. The asparagus will snap at exactly the point in which that particular stem becomes woody, so by prepping them in this way you ensure that you get only the freshest, most tender parts of the asparagus. Discard the base and set aside the length of the tip for cooking. Continue with the remaining asparagus stems.
Next, peel the sweet potato and cut into 1cm cubes. Crush the garlic and combine with the sweet potato cubes and the olive oil. Spread evenly over the base of a large roasting tray, season and then roast in the oven for 20 minutes until the potato cubes start to crisp on their edges. While the sweet potato is roasting, bring a small pan of water to the boil and steam the trimmed asparagus until tender to a knife point – approximately 4 minutes.
Transfer the cooked and cooled quinoa to a large serving bowl and fluff up with a fork. Add the asparagus, raisins, sweet potato cubes, pine nuts and sliced celery to the quinoa and mix together. Pour over the dressing and toss before serving.