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COOKING LOCAL Quinoa Salad Stuffed Tomatoes with Tahini Roasted Veggies

August 26, 2011


/>            Welcome back to the kitchen. Summer rolls on

into its later days, and it is beautiful out there. A quick trip to any local farmers market reveals just how much

amazing, vibrant, and delicious produce is available to harvest right now.

/>            My eye is always drawn to the exotic,

imperfect beauty of heirloom tomatoes. After months of passing over those flavorless red rubber balls that pass

for tomatoes in the supermarket, I’m thrilled to have the real deal to eat. Uniformity of food isn’t

necessarily a virtue. Something is lost in this industrialized version of ripeness.

/>            So when I see gnarly, twisted, misshapen

tomatoes with weird colors and names, I get excited to try something unique, something that has been chosen for

specific delicious characteristics, and a crop that likely would not ship well and store long enough to be

available in most supermarkets.
            Of course

there are plenty of other great crops to choose from. So with a mind to make the most of what’s in season,

I’m thinking about a delicious, simple, vegetarian dish for today. This is a sort of salad/entrée

hybrid, and for those ardent carnivores among you who are already turning up your noses, you can always grill some

simple chicken or lamb to go along with it.

/>            But I’m getting ahead of myself,

aren’t I? What I want to create on today’s Cooking Local is heirloom tomatoes stuffed to overflowing

with a quinoa and feta cheese salad, and topped with roasted eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, and sweet onions

tossed in a tahini dressing. This is a beautiful freeform dish packed with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean

flavors.
            What I’ve got pictured in

my mind is a beautiful heirloom tomato for each person, with the top and some if the insides removed so it has

some hollowed out space. Into that goes a fresh quinoa salad with raisins, parsley, feta cheese, and some grated

carrots and other veggies. We’ll toss that salad with a simple lemon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil

dressing. Then we’ll grill some veggies on the grill and make a sort of modified Middle Eastern roasted

ratatouille, which will get tossed with a rich and lemony tahini dressing. Pile up the roasted veggies to top off

the tomato tower, and maybe drop on a clove or two of roasted garlic for effect, and we have a delicious

masterpiece.
            Can you picture it? The

gorgeous heirloom tomato will be the perfect compliment for the roasted veggies and quinoa salad. Or course, as I

said, this dish would pair well with some herbed grilled chicken, lamb, or even sausage. But I don’t really

think we need the meat here. There is plenty of protein in quinoa, and we’ll get even more from the cheese

and tahini. So we’ve got a plan, let’s get this dish underway!

/>            Let’s start by making our quinoa salad,

because it can chill and marinate in the fridge for awhile while we get everything else ready. This salad is very

freeform, and so you should feel very free to replace or substitute ingredients at will.

/>            For this Quinoa and Feta Salad we’ll

need:

-2 cups quinoa
-4 cups water
-1 carrot, grated
-2 scallions or green onions,

chopped
-1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
-1/2 cup cucumber, chopped fine (no need to peel if it is a fresh

local cuke)
-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
-1/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit
-1/4 cup toasted

pine nuts
-juice of 1 fresh squeezed lemon
-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (plus possibly more to

taste)
-1/4 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste

/>            Start by cooking the quinoa, which is a

delicious whole grain that cooks similarly to rice, but is packed with protein. Bring the water to a boil in a

small pot on the stovetop, then add the quinoa, stir, and turn down the heat to low. Cover tightly and let cook

for about 20 minutes, or until the water is all evaporated and the quinoa is tender but not yet mushy. Remove the

quinoa from the stove and put the pot in a bowl of ice water in the sink. We want to cool it down at least to room

temperature as quickly as possible.
            While

the quinoa is cooling, chop and grate the veggies and mix the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice together. When the

quinoa has cooled down enough to stop steaming, mix it together in a big bowl with all the veggies, herbs,

raisins, pine nuts and feta cheese. Normally I would also be adding grape tomatoes and red peppers to this dish,

but we’ve got those ingredients in other parts of the dish, so I’m going to hold off.

/>            Taste the quinoa salad. Does it have enough

tart bite? You may want to add a bit more vinegar. Too tart? Balance that with a bit more oil. Don’t forget

to add the salt and pepper. Sometimes I like to make a sort of Mexican version of this by using cilantro and a bit

of cumin powder. And this salad keeps well in the fridge, so feel free to make lots and take leftovers for

lunch.
            When you’ve got the quinoa

and feta salad tasting how you want it, cover it with cling wrap and put it in the fridge to cool down some more.

OK, so there is the quinoa salad, let’s move on to the roasted vegetables with tahini dressing.

/>            First of all, for those who don’t know,

tahini is a delicious paste made from sesame seeds. It is very popular in Middle Eastern cooking, but is used in

various cuisines throughout the world. Most people know that hummus is made from chickpeas, but really it is

tahini that gives it its distinct flavor. In this case, the tahini will be a rich and creamy dressing for our fire

roasted vegetables.
    For the roasted veggies we’ll need:

-3 or 4 small

zucchini squash, cut into ¼ inch pieces (the long way)
-1 large eggplant or 2 or 3 small eggplants,

also cut into ¼ inch
-1 large red bell pepper, cut in half and stems and seeds removed
-1 large

Walla Walla sweet onion, cut into ¼ inch rounds
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 tablespoon fresh

chopped oregano leaves
-salt and black pepper to taste

Dressing:

/>•    1/3 cup well-stirred tahini (Middle Eastern sesame paste)
•   

1/3 cup hot water
•    Juice of 1-2 ripe lemons
•    1 garlic

clove, minced into a paste
•    3/4 teaspoon salt
•    1/4

teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
•    Small pinch cayenne pepper

/>•    Small pinch cinnamon and/or nutmeg
•    2 tablespoons chopped

mint leaves
Start by slicing all your veggies and tossing them with the oil, oregano, and salt and pepper.

Heat up your barbecue grill to medium high. If you have a veggie roasting basket or rack, now would be the time to

use it. Arrange the veggies on the hot grill and let them cook until they get a bit of char and are roasted

through, about 4 minutes per side.
While the veggies are grilling, let’s make up the tahini dressing.

Just like when we make peanut sauce, we are going to use some very hot, nearly boiling water to help melt the

thick tahini and get a nice creamy consistency. It’s probably easiest to just toss all the tahini dressing

ingredients into the blender or food processor. Otherwise, just mix everything together really well until it is

all blended.
    When your roasted veggies are done to your liking, take them off the grill

and set them aside to cool for a bit. When they are cool enough to handle, give the zucchini, eggplant, peppers

and onions a rough chopping so you get big bite sized pieces. Put all the chopped roasted veggies onto a bowl and

toss with the tahini dressing until everything is well mixed. Yum. The rich, tangy tahini dressing is the perfect

match for the sweet and smoky roasted ratatouille.
    While the BBQ is still on, I might peel

a whole bunch of cloves of garlic, toss them with some olive oil, and then double wrap them in aluminum foil to

roast for 10 minutes or so. Just put the foil garlic packet a bit away from the hottest part of the grill and turn

it every so often. This will give us some really yummy roasted-tasting garlic to top off our dish.

/>    So now we have the roasted veggies and the quinoa salad, let’s assemble everything

together. As I said, I’m going to hollow out one heirloom tomato per person, cutting out about a third of

eat fruit and setting it aside or chopping it to add to the quinoa salad. If you only have gigantic heirloom

tomatoes, you can just cut some nice fat slices and use those as a base instead.
    On each

plate lay down a bed of arugula or baby greens. Place the semi-hollowed heirloom tomato on top of that. Fill the

tomato with a scoop of the quinoa and feta salad. Scoop up a nice big blob of the fire roasted tahini veggies and

plop that on top of the quinoa. Finally, top each stuffed tomato with a roasted garlic clove or three. I think

I’ll also chop up some more fresh parsley and sprinkle that over the top as a flavorful garnish.

/>    Wow! This is beautiful enough for a fancy restaurant. I think you’ll find the flavors

marry together really nicely. The fresh heirloom tomato pairs perfectly with the quinoa and the roasted tahini

vegetables send the whole dish over the top. I’m not even sure what to call it. A Mediterranean/middle

eastern tomato tower? Sure, I guess. For now I think I’ll just call it dinner.
    Nice

work everyone! I’d love to hear how you are making use of the season’s bountiful harvest. Send me any

questions or comments to isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-

Woolner.

 

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