Thursday, October 25, 2012

Apple cider quinoa salad with sweet potatoes, black beans & onions

"We eat first with our eyes."  If that saying is true, then it would appear that I had three servings of dinner last night.  Three!  Gulp.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me begin from the top.

What started out as a plan to create a super seasonal quinoa dish turned into a glamour shots session for one of the most photogenic and autumnal dishes I've ever made!  Sweet potato quinoa with apple cider dressing for the win!

For days, I wrote and rewrote the recipe for a fall quinoa salad.  My primary goal was to create the most flamboyant color scheme dinner has ever seen.  No room for subtly here.

Besides, since when have I ever been subtle?  I barely know the meaning of the word.  It's pronounced sub-tull, right? :)

All (bad) jokes aside, you've gotta try building a recipe around the colors of the rainbow sometime.  Turns out it's fun!

Florescent orange roasted sweet potatoes, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, were the star of the show.  I can't tell you how many of these bite-sized morsels I popped into my mouth during prep went missing.  Their color was so bright and immediately brought to mind turning leaves and carved pumpkins.  Fall, indeed.

Bright purple slivers of red onion for a punch along with super sweet and chewy dried cranberries went into the mix next.  I love the contrasting flavors and textures in this duo.  And the colors?  My goodness!  How could they not evoke images of evening hay rides through apple orchards?

Throw in some spooky black beans for an earthy touch with a boost of fiber and protein.  Plus, black and orange are totally necessary in any dish claiming to be all about fall.

All mixed with fluffy poppy (seriously, I can't get over how poppy it really is!) quinoa.  But, I wasn't finished.  Oh, heck no, folks.

If you thought you were jonesing for apples before, well, here is a dressing to satisfy that craving.  A double dose of apple with both cider and cider vinegar make for one orchard-friendly vinaigrette when mixed with other pantry staples like oil, dijon mustard, and honey.  But, what really sets this apart is the dash of cinnamon I threw in at the last minute.  Not enough to make you aware of the cinnamon, per se, but enough to give a little depth and warmth to the dressing.  In a word, subtle

So subtle that this was one of those dishes that I couldn't get enough of.  The first "serving" was just oogling the heck out of my dinner plate.  Almost too gorgeous to disturb.  The second serving was atop a bed of spinach.  And, when I wanted more, I went back for a third helping on its own.  It would appear that I can pack away healthy food as well as I can junk, too.

How 'bout them apples?

One year ago: Pumpkin gingersnap cookies
Two years ago: Beef and butternut squash stew

Fall Quinoa with Apple Cider Dressing
-makes 4-5 servings

A few notes: It might seem like many steps, but much of it is inactive time.  As the sweet potatoes and quinoa are cooking, the dressing is prepared and ready to go when they are finished.  For an extra boost of protein, add a cooked chicken breast atop the quinoa or diced and folded into the mixture.

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
Ground black pepper
1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
Dried pumpkin seeds, for garnish [optional]

For the dressing:
1/3 cup apple juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Dash of cinnamon
Salt & black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 415 degrees Fahrenheit.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potato cubes with 1/2 tablespoon of olive and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat evenly.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, shaking pan and shuffling potatoes about halfway through, until potatoes begin to turn golden at the edges.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, as potatoes roast, combine rinsed quinoa and chicken broth in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove lid, fluff quinoa, and remove from heat.While quinoa is cooking, whisk together ingredients for dressing in a large bowl.

Add dried cranberries, beans, onion, sweet potatoes, and quinoa, and toss gently to mix.  Serve alone or over a bed of spinach and enjoy!  Can be stored and refrigerated up to 5 days in sealed container.

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