When the temperature hit a muggy ninety on Saturday, I declared that it is officially salad season in Oklahoma. Sure, it’s still spring, but soup weather ended last month and swimsuit weather is fast approaching (eeks!). Adrienne picked a delicious-sounding asparagus and white bean soup for this week’s Food Matters Project recipe, so I took it as an opportunity to perfect the asparagus salad concept I’ve had in mind.
Over the weekend, I tried asparagus salad every which way—with and without Parmesan, goat cheese, pine nuts, sunflower seeds and quinoa. I tried to incorporate white beans, both pan-fried and regular, but I ultimately decided that they are too earthy for this bright and nutty salad. Today, after eating asparagus for days and getting smacked on the chin by countless ribbons of asparagus, I present to you my favorite iteration.
This salad comes together pretty quickly. The only ingredient that requires turning on the stove is quinoa, which takes about 20 minutes to make. To save time, you can make the quinoa advance. Once your quinoa is cooked and your asparagus ribbons are ready, the rest comes together very quickly. The dressing couldn’t be easier; it’s just lemon juice and olive oil.
Asparagus, sliced super thin, tastes mild and fresh, and doesn’t need to be cooked or steamed. Quinoa contributes nutty flavor and turns this salad into a full meal. Parmesan and pine nuts add welcome savory notes that really make this dish, so please don’t skimp on them. I was almost hesitant to recommend pine nuts because they are expensive, but I assure you that they are worth their weight in gold here. If pine nuts are not an option, toasted sunflower seeds are a fine substitute.
Before we get to the recipe, though, I want to talk about the most underrated and versatile of all kitchen tools: the vegetable peeler! It’s like a cheap, hand-held mandoline. I use my vegetable peeler to peel sweet potatoes for sweet potato fries, obviously, and also to create super thin slices of carrots (seen here, here and here), radishes (seen here), zucchini (seen here) and asparagus. Jacqui uses her peeler to make parsnip chips. I’ve even found that it’s easier to create Parmesan shavings with a peeler than my grandmother’s cheese plane.
Any vegetable peeler will work, but Deb of Smitten Kitchen recommended using a y-shaped peeler in her ribboned asparagus salad post. Thus I spent six bucks on this sharp little Kuhn Rikon (free shipping!) and it’s my new favorite thing*. I’ve found that the best way to get the most shavings from long, skinny vegetables like asparagus is to hold the vegetable near the end of the cutting board, parallel to the edge. Slightly angle the y-shaped peeler down over the edge of the board so the tips of the peeler don’t stop me from getting the last few shavings.
*Update: this peeler is great, but don’t wash it in the dishwasher! Wash it by hand and dry it with a towel, otherwise it tends to rust. I think I’ll eventually invest in a stainless steel Y-peeler, like this one by OXO or this sleek peeler by Rösle.
- 3/4 to 1 cup cooked quinoa (see step 1 below)
- 6 to 7 stalks of asparagus (almost a handful)
- 1 small lemon
- olive oil (the good stuff), to taste
- Sea salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 to 2 ounces Parmesan, shaved
- Cook the quinoa (I like to make extra for more salads and for breakfast, 1 cup of dry quinoa yields over 3 cups cooked quinoa). Combine rinsed quinoa with twice as much water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed, remove from heat and fluff with a fork.
- Shave the asparagus with a vegetable peeler. To do so, hold the touch end of the asparagus against a cutting board, and peel from the tough end toward the tip. (See tips above)
- Toast the pine nuts. I prefer to do this in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, but you may get more even results by baking at 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes (stirring often). I use the skillet method because I tend to get distracted and forget about them in the oven! You want the pine nuts well toasted, meaning golden but not burnt.
- Zest the lemon (if desired) and slice it in half.
- In a bowl, combine cooked quinoa and shaved asparagus. Squeeze in most of the juice of half a lemon (add more to taste later) and a good drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper and toss to coat. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Use your vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan directly onto the salad. Don’t skimp on the cheese! Top with lemon zest. If necessary, add more lemon juice, olive oil, or salt and pepper to taste.
- Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
- Amounts given above yield one big salad.
- Here’s a tip: when you’re storing asparagus in the fridge, store them upright in an inch or two of water! That’s a little trick I picked up from the Native Roots Market facebook page, and my asparagus has stayed super fresh for days that way.
- For roasted asparagus and white bean soup and many more asparagus recipes, check out the comment section of this week’s Food Matters Project post!