Last Thursday I received an email from my friend Ami about picnics. I was coming to the end of a long chicken-pox infected week on my own with the boys, so I jumped at the idea. Friday or Saturday?? Count me in for both! Big brother was past the contagious stage and the weather in Paris had suddenly blossomed into luxurious summery sunshine. I was ready to venture out and have me some adult conversation.
However, as I was on my own with the two boys and under a deadline, I really needed to find the ingredients for a tasty lunch in my kitchen. I knew I had a couple of chicken breasts and a bit of cucumber for the fresh elements. I started searching through the cabinets for the rest of the ingredients. A big box of red quinoa jumped out at me: I'd been meaning to experiment with it for some time but the Critic is no fan of nubbly food. That set me on a kind of a New World strain and so I pulled out the plump sweetened dried cranberries I picked up at Target on our recent trip to the US. As luck would have it, I had a couple of bunches of young shallot shoots in the back of the vegetable bin, which would also liven the mixture a bit. Cumin was my first choice for a spice, but I love it so much lately that I'm frequently out. Coriander was my second choice and it worked so well that I'm glad I had no cumin in the spice drawer.
The resulting salad was delightful: full of flavors that zing and interesting textures. It is the perfect picnic food in that it's relatively quick and easy to prepare and best served either slightly cooled or at room temperature. I loved it so much that I made it again three days later when we were invited to visit friends in the country for lunch in their garden. And even the Critic liked it. I'll be making it again. I'd like to say that I'll be using it as a template for other interesting ventures, but I'd be lying. It really was quite perfect just the way it came out the first (and second) time(s).
Cranberry and Quinoa Salad with Coriander and Chili Dusted Chicken
(serves 4-6 as a side dish in a picnic spread)
2 boneless free range chicken breasts
175 grams red quinoa (regular quinoa can be substituted)
450 ml water or broth (I used Better than Bouillon Mushroom Base)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (you could substitute plump sultanas or giant raisins)
4 green onions or shallot shoots, finely sliced in rounds
1 cup chopped cucumber
small handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp chili pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 tbs olive oil, divided
For the sauce: 1 container plain yogurt, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp fresh or frozen chopped coriander, 1 tbs lime juice.
Put half the olive oil in a deep heavy bottomed sauce pan over a medium heat. Add the quinoa and stir for a few minutes, until a few grains make popping noises and a nutty aroma develops. Pour in the water or broth and cook at a low boil for 25 minutes or until the seeds are chewy and have sprouted little curlicues.
In the meantime, prepare the chicken. Pour the remaining olive oil over the chicken breasts and slather over both sides. Dust both sides of the breasts with the dried spices and place on a hot grill. Grill for 5-7 minutes on one side with the grill top on, then flip the breasts and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes. The breasts should be cooked through (no pink in the center) but not dried out. Allow them to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.
Allow the quinoa to cool a bit before folding in the salad components: the chicken (cut into bite-sized pieces), the cranberries or raisins, the finely sliced shallots or green onions, the parsley and the cucumber. Mix the dressing ingredients together well in a small bowl and serve alongside the salad.
Serving the dressing drizzled over the salad made a prettier plate (though I forgot to take a photo of it) and also made the salad more interesting, as it meant an intense sour note from time to time to counteract the sweet fruity taste of the cranberries and the spiciness of the pepper and coriander.