Strawberry, Quinoa, & Ricotta Salata Salad from Sunset
We all know the saying “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. This can also be a fairly speedy route to the female heart as well. Staying in and making your date dinner (or making it together) rates high on the romance scale. You get to show off your creativity and appreciation for nuance & details, even if it’s a simple dish. No different from putting an outfit together. That’s what this series is about. She or he will be left impressed, and you won’t need the skills of Wolfgang Puck.
- Familiar Ingredients: quinoa (it does not taste like a “dirty old tree branch”!), strawberries, cucumber, green onion, shallot, fresh basil
- Not So Familiar Ingredients: watercress, ricotta salata, dried red chili, white balsamic vinegar
- Number of Pans/Pots you’ll need to make this dish: small pot for the quinoa, medium bowl to toss the salad in, small bowl for dressing
Springtime, oh yeah. In my humble opinion, one of the best times of the year. Warm days, but nights that cool down enough to sleep comfortably. Putting warm weather clothing back into rotation. And strawberries. Yes, we can get them year round, but those strawberries you bought in February so you could make the Stuffed Chicken Breast with Strawberry Salad, they got nothing on the strawberries you can find now.
Bust out the white wine, we’re dining al fresco! (click photo for recipe)
With the weather warming up we start craving lighter flavors and textures. Dining al fresco becomes an option again, and this dish is the perfect reentry into good food on a warm evening that is simple, and satisfying. The recipe from Sunset does not include grilled shrimp, I just decided to add that for extra protein. Quinoa packs a protein punch though, so this meal will work for vegetarians, and even vegans if you don’t use cheese (replace with some sliced almonds). Also, the recipe makes 4 appetizer size salads, but the proportions are perfect for 2 entrée salads.
Some words of advice to help you prepare this dish successfully:
Ricotta Salata – This is a salty sheep or goat’s milk cheese from Italy. You’ll likely be able to find it at a specialty deli, or somewhere like Whole Foods. There are a few good Greek alternatives that you’ll be able to pick up at your local grocer, like feta, or Mizithra (that’s what I used) if you want to skip the tang of feta. You can even use queso fresco. You’re just looking for a dryer, mild salty cheese.
Watercress – For those of you who have never tried watercress, it’s spicy. Combining it with other ingredients cuts down on the spicy punch it packs, but if you just stick some watercress in your mouth and chew, you’ll likely be reminded of horseradish. Watercress is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, and vitamin C. It’s not overwhelming in this salad, but if you feel the need, you can replace half the required greens with something milder, like baby spinach. Also, watercress usually comes with the roots still attached, so have your kitchen shears at the ready.
Living watercress is chock full of vitamins and minerals
Dried Red Chili – If you do a lot of Latin inspired cooking, you might keep dried red chilies in your pantry. If not, you’ll likely have to buy a package of several chilies at the grocery store in order to get the one you need for this recipe (you might be able to find chilies in loose bulk at a Latin market). If you don’t often cook with chili, and know that 4 years from now you’ll come across that unused package of chilies while cleaning out a cupboard, just use a pinch of red pepper flakes in place of the chili.
White Balsamic Vinegar – Lighter in flavor than regular balsamic, you can usually find white balsamic right along with the regular at your local grocer. Stick to white balsamic for this recipe, it works much better in the flavor profile of this dish.
Shallot – So full disclosure, I totally forgot to add the shallot to the dressing. And you know what? I think the dish was actually better than it would have been with the shallot. The green onions added just a hint of onion flavor, whereas the shallot would have packed much more onion flavor into the dish. If you (and your date) are hard core onion lovers, keep the shallot in. If not, omit the shallot.
Final Note: This is most definitely a white wine meal. You could go with a rosé, but I think a Viognier would hit the spot. You could also go with a sparkling wine, like a dry champagne or prosecco. With a meal this light, bubbles shouldn’t be an issue.