Quinoa is one of my favorite foods and I’m always looking for new ways to spruce it up. I came up with this dish based on a salad I quickly threw together a few weeks ago with tomato, orange and olives drizzled with olive oil and salt. We ate the salad with some sautéed fennel and a piece of salmon and the combination of flavors on the plate were perfect.
Fennel is delicious no matter how you eat it, but something magical happens when you cook it down in a little bit of olive oil and really let it get soft and sweet. It becomes rich and almost creamy and full of flavor.
Neil has been adding a touch of fennel pollen to our sautéed fennel these days, and it really helps add depth to the flavor. You can find it at specialty food stores or spice markets. We bought one little jar of fennel pollen a long time ago and it’s lasted a long time because you really only need a little to make a big impact. It’s very pungent and powerful stuff but it’s so good that I don’t know how our kitchen could ever be without it. Neil’s dad actually adds a touch of Sambuca to his fennel when he sautés it (cooking off the alcohol but keeping the licorice-ey flavor), which gives a similar effect and is also delicious.
To make this quinoa salad, I pulled together the flavors from the olive salad and the sautéed fennel, and decided that some toasted almonds would be the perfect addition to bring it all together. In my opinion, they made the dish. I was so happy with the way this turned out. It was savory and a little sweet, salty and crunchy. You can serve this hot or cold, but I preferred it cold served as a salad. It makes a perfectly balanced and filling lunch or a great side dish.
Quinoa with fennel, olive and citrus
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa * Make sure to rinse your quinoa very well in warm water before cooking it. Rinsing it takes away the strange bitter flavor and leaves you with a clean-tasting quinoa
Cherry tomatoes, halved
1-2 Oranges, segmented and chopped
Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (I think any variety of olive would work well in this, even green ones)
1 head of Fennel, chopped into small bite-size pieces – keep the fennel fronds (the gorgeous stringy bits that come out of the head of the vegetable)
A bunch of slivered almonds, toasted and cooled (I toast mine quickly in a pan on medium heat, constantly stirring them until they smell toasty and turn a nice light brown)
Apple Cider Vinegar or Rice Wine Vinegar
Good Olive Oil
Heat a good amount of olive oil in a pan and add the chopped fennel. Sautee for about 5-10 minutes, until the fennel gets very soft and caramelized. You can add a bit of water or white wine and cook it off to help the fennel soften. Add some salt as it’s cooking. Once it’s cooked down and soft, sprinkle with some fennel pollen, mix and let cool.
Once your cooked quinoa has cooled, add the tomatoes, orange segments, olive pieces and toasted almond slivers. Add in the cooled fennel.
Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a bit of apple cider or rice wine vinegar (to taste, really) and some coarsely ground sea salt. Add a bunch of fennel fronds to top it off – they add a hit of bright green and some extra fennel-ey flavor.
C’est tout! You can refrigerate to let the flavors come together and serve cold. It actually tastes even better after a day in the fridge.