The breeze blew in the scent of the new blossoms crowning the trees. Their branches had been naked for many months. Overnight they are full and colorful. As a friend of mine commented one of those days: "Manhattan smells like flowers. Can you believe it?" This City tends to emit plenty of aromas, but trust me, they are rarely pleasant, so it's a time to rejoice.
Bright yellow daffodils bring sunshine to the sidewalks and, just as every year, they allow me that relieved feeling of the cold season being over.
Colorful tulips are making their entrance, and nice and springy produce is showing up at stands, markets, and who am I kidding? at Fairway.* Asparagus, artichokes, baby eggplants and rhubarb are being stocked. Organic berries slowly become more affordable. All the stores are now decorated with the Easter pastel palette and filled with chocolate, marshmallow and candy bunnies, chicks, and eggs.
And with all that spring excitement comes Passover, with its traditions, preparations and questions. In NYC, "baby's first Seder" onesies, toy plague kits, and wind-up walking matzah balls (yes, seriously) are displayed right across the pink Peep marshmallow bunnies.
Although quite "innovative," these Passover products have been outshone this year by QUINOA, which has taken the central stage of the Passover panorama. I haven't seen yet a current Passover publication in which this ancient seed of the Inca isn't mentioned. Is it allowed? Isn't it? Why, how, where? It used to be a little known grain-looking ingredient famous only among healthy-eating aficionados who praised it as a good source of vegetarian complete protein, iron and calcium. In the last 10 years, it has gained tremendous popularity, probably also due to the increase of Celiac disease diagnosis, as quinoa is gluten-free. Quinoa has gone kosherly mainstream, as some rabbinic authorities have permitted to be eaten during the 7-day Jewish holiday. Of course there are those who don't embrace it nor recommend it, but apparently it's been accepted by many. And I will definitely be preparing it.
Quinoa makes a great tabbouleh when you add to it chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint and dill, lemon juice (fresh, please) and extra virgin olive oil. I also like it with carrots, kale and lots of garlic and chiles. In general, I think it goes well with any combination of vegetables and gets great texture when served with crunchy seeds or nuts! I made the following version last week, in one of those fantastic spring days I was talking about. We enjoyed it very much, even if it wasn't Passover yet and we could have had some couscous instead.
It's full of goodness and it's a great lunch when you want to take a break from the classic heavier dishes of the Holiday.
*Due to an overwhelming credit card bill last month, I'm abstaining as much as I can from visiting that place, my favorite store, my muse, my office...
QUINOA WITH ROASTED GRAPES, SHALLOTS AND ITALIAN EGGPLANT
Serve it warm or at room temperature. Just make sure it's seasoned well before you plate it. Sometimes it needs readjustments with salt, pepper, lemon juice or honey.
- Free of: soy, dairy, wheat, gluten and eggs
- Super ingredients: quinoa (provides complete protein, fiber, and iron), eggplant (rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, vitamins, minerals and fiber), grapes (rich in phytonutrients, especially anti-aging resveratrol), lemon (vitamin C and limonoids), garlic (contains powerful phytonutrient allicin)
1 cup quinoa (rinsed if package instructions specify to do so)
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
Pinch saffron threads. optional
2 Italian (baby) eggplants (stems trimmed and cut into 3/4-in cubes. Don't peel)
1 cup seedless grapes
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1/2 cup salted pistachios, shelled (optional)
1 lemon, juice and zest
About 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (I used thyme)
About 1 tablespoon raw honey, or to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
Black pepper, to taste
METHODPreheat oven to 400F
Line one rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium pot, bring quinoa, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and saffron to a boil. Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the spiral-shaped quinoa germ detaches from the seed.
While quinoa is cooking, place cubed eggplant, grapes and shallots in a bowl and add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Toss with your hands making sure all the fruits and veggies are well oiled. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast for about 20 minutes. The eggplant will be soft and melted, and the grapes' skin might burst, but make sure they don't burn.
In a serving bowl, place cooked quinoa and fluff it with a fork. Add in roasted eggplant mix and pistachios.
Season with the remaining olive oil, add the juice and zest of the lemon, sprinkle in the herbs, swirl in the honey and add the garlic. Mix well, but gently.
Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Serves 4-6 people