Clearly I’m jumping the gun here a bit on “Summer,” but I’ve got a racer-back tan-line seared between my shoulders and the imprint of (my favorite) teeny-tiny wedge sandals emblazoned on the tops of my bare feet, so I can’t be that far off in my seasonal labeling, right?
They keep telling me that “it’s never like this;” they being those more seasoned San Franciscans than I, and this being the exceptionally perfect seventy-five-and-no-cloud-in-the-sky weather we’ve been having straight up on the reg. I know I keep saying it, but there’s been some killer days here; the kind that make me actually excited for the in-betweens when the fog rolls in, and for that perfect time of evening when the eerie echo of the foghorn picks up at dusk.
We had barely even fifteen minutes indoors this past weekend, with Saturday enjoyed posted up at picnic tables and grilling oysters with friends at Tomales Bay, and Sunday spent having our first taste of Bay to Breakers, an annual road race that seems to be much less about the race and much more about who can wear the most ridiculous costume. (And…ahem…about lots of random naked people. Being naked in public is a big thing here, folks.)
Though sweet corn and eggplant are two things I associate more with July and August, I found both at the farmer’s market last week, and therefore – Summer, shes’a close.
Quinoa salads are one of my favorite easy and inexpensive things to keep in the fridge, and this one – with rounds of silky roasted eggplant, shards of crispy toasted almond, kernels of sweet corn, and slivers of crisp red onion – checks all the boxes when it comes to flavor and texture. It’s a bit salty and a bit sweet, and the sweet pop of fresh and raw sweet corn against the crunch of the occasional bite of almond and onion strikes a perfect balance.
There are shreds of fresh basil to further Summer-fy things, and a super-light dressing of lemon zest, red wine vinegar, honey, and olive oil to tie things together delicately. It’s a make and stash salad great for toting along to a picnic by the bay (or by the mountain, lake, river, or meadow…), and travels perfectly to work, subbing in nicely for those easy but unhealthy lunches we so often fall prey to during a hot Summer-like day.
(In-N-Out — I’m looking at you.)
Summer Quinoa Salad: Chinese Eggplant, Sweet Corn, Red Onion, Toasted Almond
If you can’t find chinese eggplant, go ahead and get the larger globe (aka Italian) eggplants, and simply dice them into smaller cubes (rather than cut them into rounds).
Try and find the freshest sweet corn that you have, and remember that the longer it sits in your fridge before you make this, the starchier and less tasty it will become – I try to buy corn and use it that day (or at the latest the very next day) to keep the flavor clean and perfectly sweet.
4 Chinese Eggplant, cut into 1/4″ rounds
3 ears sweet corn, kernels removed and cobs discarded
1 small red onion, cut into very thin slices
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup quinoa
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil, + additional for roasting eggplant
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6-8 leaves fresh basil
Preheat your oven to 400F. Toast your slivered almonds in a skillet set over medium heat until they are a toasty golden brown – keep a close eye on them, as they will go from brown to burnt in no time at all. Set them in a large mixing bowl to the side. Place your sliced red onion into a small bowl and add cold water to cover; keep the red onion in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the salad.
Spread your eggplant rounds over a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and drizzle just enough olive oil over their tops to thinly coat them. Sprinkle the rounds with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven, tossing occasionally, till they are tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. While the eggplant cooks, prepare your quinoa by bringing a medium saucepan full of 1 3/4 cups well-salted water to a boil. Add your quinoa, stir, and bring the pot to a boil again. When it boils, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to low. Let the quinoa simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the water has absorbed, the quinoa is tender, and you can see the opaque ‘curlique’ in each piece. Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let it sit to the side.
Make the dressing by whisking the lemon zest, 2 Tbsp olive oil, honey, and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. When the quinoa and eggplant are cooked and have cooled slightly, add them into the large mixing bowl with the slivered almonds. Drain the red onion slices, and stir them into the quinoa mixture, along with the fresh (raw) sweet corn kernels. Drizzle the dressing mixture over the quinoa, and gently stir to combine; add pinches of kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste. Cut the basil leaves into a chiffonade (by rolling the leaves and cutting them into long skinny strips), and stir them into the salad.
You can serve the salad immediately or up to a day later; the salad is delicious while still warm, at room temperature, and even chilled the next day. The basil will discolor and go from bright green to a duller army green while it sits, so I recommend stirring the basil into the salad just before you plan to serve it.