Quinoa with veggies inspired by salads found at California restaurants

Dale and Iris pose for a photo outside Paramount Pictures studio while on vacation in California.

Broccoli and asparagus are chopped and cooked, ready to be incorporated into a quinoa salad.

Hillsides in California were filled with color as heavy rains in the months prior had led to a "superbloom."
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Two weeks ago, I wrote my column during our flight to Palm Springs, finishing it that evening in our motel. Today, on my first day back home, I am writing again.

My body is still on California time, two hours earlier. Our flight came in at 11:30 p.m., but it was over an hour until our shuttle got us to our car. Back home, I didn't wake up until noon.

In a way, our return was to a sort of apocalyptic landscape. The ice and snow from two weeks ago had nearly disappeared until we drove into Eyota and realized there were still plenty of piles, but our driveway again had two lanes.

Our vacation was an adventure in scenery, plants and food. I had read in the March 2018 edition of Eating Well about how much of our nation's vegetables and fruits are grown in California. Because of this, I was focused on experiencing as much of it as I could.

Many of the meals I ordered were salads of leafy greens topped with chunks of fresh fruit. I ate asparagus in a salad with a meal of grilled trout. We shopped at the Los Angeles Farmers Market and kept a supply of fruit and veggies in our hotel fridge.

Many of our meals were eaten outdoors at tables set on sidewalks or patios.

We stayed at five different locations, which involved lots of freeway driving in between, but once checked in, we'd focus more on streets, where we got a better feel for the areas we were visiting.

During the weekends there, we connected with two of my brothers, who live in the area, to enjoy a meal together, along with great conversation.

After two days in Palm Springs, where our plane had landed, we headed to Newport Beach, so we could attend the Classic Auto Show being held in the Orange County Fairgrounds. The following day, we met my youngest brother, Neal, at his church, then we drove to Dana Point with them leading the way.

My sister-in-law, Kelly, had discovered a walkway that goes from a hilltop above the harbor, leading down to the Dana Point Wharf. The views were breathtaking. We could see where their wedding reception had been held along the water about 25 years ago.

At the bottom, we ordered bagels with toppings and sat outdoors, where boats lined the harbor. We'd left our car in the parking lot and rode in their car up into a residential area and left their car there. After our walk and lunch, we drove them back to their car and left to continue our journey to a three-night stay in San Diego.

I was excited for Dale to experience this seaside sprawling area, which I'd visited a few times before. Neal had given me advice, which helped me plan a stay in the Hotel Circle area. He also suggested taking a trolley tour, which stopped at several locations including Balboa Park, Coronado Island and Old Town.

The trolley drivers had great stories, but the one I found most fascinating was about the woman behind planting trees in an area eventually set aside as a park. It includes many museums and a large zoo. On our second day in town we revisited Balboa to check out the automobile and aerospace museums.

By accident we'd discovered a craft brewery, whose appetizers were so good, we went back a second day, partly because they were out of their yellow fin tuna the first night. It's easy, and cheaper, to make a meal out of appetizers. We'd followed a street starting out as Hotel Circle, which runs along a freeway, and then crosses underneath it. Turning, we followed another street, which ended up in a shopping area where we found a Trader Joes and the brewery. 

Kelly had told us about the “super blooms” and Neal sent me photos of the super bloom they had visited on Monday. So on Tuesday, on our way to Glendale, we stopped to view a super bloom along Interstate 15.

Hillsides were covered with orange California poppies blooming. Once off the freeway, we joined the crowd of gawkers who were also photographing the blooming landscapes and individual flowers, which also included yellow and purple flowers after a closer inspection. Weekend viewing had caused a shutdown of the highway.

The heavy rainfalls in preceding months had led to a heavier than usual blooming season, thus called a “super bloom.”

In Glendale we visited the Griffith Conservatory, a stop we'd wished to make a year ago, but couldn't. Then we followed the Santa Monica Boulevard to the ocean and visited the Santa Monica Pier.

After we'd been in California a week and eaten an assortment of fish and shrimp tacos, my husband said “no more tacos,” although many were really good, far better than the fish tacos from a Mexican fast food, visited our first evening there.

The next day included a tour of Paramount Pictures, the only film company still having their studios in Hollywood and continued on to find the Los Angeles Farmers Market, where we had our supper. It was dark before we found the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which seemed like a long endless party. Not finding a safe place to park, we simply drove the strip, then headed back to our motel.

On our way back to Palm Springs, we stopped at my brother Kent's home in Corona. His wife, Diana, treated us to a meal she had prepared for us. She loves cooking. Gradual, might be the best way to describe our meal, which started with lettuce leaf wraps, then progressed to a corn and potato soup with honey cornbread.

Kent took us outside so we could see their citrus and avocado trees while Diana prepared the apricot chicken for the next course. We ended with mini bundt cakes she had purchased.

We'd hoped to be back on the road before dark, but we had so much to talk about that it was dusk when we left.

Our final hotel, located in Desert Hot Springs, was a spa with nine pools fed from natural mineral hot springs. We spent most of the next day with sessions in and out of the pools, having an amazing and relaxing day.

The next day, I was in pursuit of visiting one more super bloom before returning home. But first was a side trip to Shields, where they grow dates and have an outdoor cafe. My salad there had a crab meat tower, which started with a layer of greens, then had a thick slice of papaya, topped with the crab meat. Surrounding chunks of other fresh fruit dotted the sea of lettuce greens.

Then began our long drive to Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park, where we eventually discovered another type of super bloom, mostly featuring yellow flowers. We were just a bit early for the cacti bloom, but we found one beginning its bloom of red flowers near the park's interpretive center.

During our travels, I had been collecting more items to eat than could be consumed, and which I planned to take home, including containers of dates and dried fruits. The final day, before our desert journey, we'd revisited the Moorten Botanical Garden to purchase a variety of small succulent plants.

On this final drive, I'd noticed wide fields of garden crops and citrus groves, all depending on irrigated water for their growth. We'd also seen rows of big hoop houses and a field where a crop was being picked by workers.

After driving the road with a yellow flowered super bloom, we felt kind of lost, but stopped near a citrus grove, which featured a roadside stand selling oranges and grapefruit. It had tiny slot where one paid $3 for a bag full. I could not resist getting oranges, but also got advice from a local resident, who had also stopped, where we could get gas. 

My husband was concerned how we'd get all my acquisitions home. I packed things artfully in our luggage bags and pockets. It was amazing how well the succulent plants survived inside a box packed in plastic food containers in spite of the jarring treatment of the suitcases on the plane.

In San Diego, at our accidental brewery find, I had ordered a side of quinoa and kale salad. Another day, a salad had included a sprinkle of the tiny cooked seeds. A nut bar recipe I'd tried before the trip included uncooked quinoa seeds, held together with a variety of nuts in a puree of dates.

My house sitter son had cleaned out my fridge while I was away, but kept watch of the veggies I'd left in the drawer. The broccoli and asparagus were still in good enough shape to be eaten.

I had traveled with a copy of “The Fresh and Green Table” by Susie Middleton, because I'd adapted my recipe for whole white wheat pizza dough from hers.

During our last hotel stay I'd noticed a recipe for using precooked quinoa for breakfast in a local magazine.  On the home-bound plane ride, I found her quinoa recipe that included dried apricots with veggies.

Instead of using the pea pods in her recipe, I used a combination of asparagus and broccoli from my fridge.

Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wa,” is grown in Peru and is actually a seed, not a grain. It is a wonderful source of fiber and protein having the eight essential amino acids. Its cook time is short. Unless one purchases a pre-rinsed quinoa, one should place the measured amount of it into a fine sieve and rinse to remove an outer milky coating on the seed.

Quinoa with Veggies

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1/4  teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

Kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 chopped shallots (or 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions)

1 cup white quinoa, rinsed in water if not pre-washed

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1 2/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cups asparagus, cut into segments and/or broccoli, peel stalks and cut into diagonal slices until reaching florets, then cut them into 1/2-inch wide slices

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro

5 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (Toast in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes, in a heavy pan.)

In a small bowl combine lime juice and honey. In another small bowl combine cinnamon, cumin, coriander and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add the shallots or green onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in the spice mixture. Add the apricots and quinoa, stir to combine and break up apricots. Pour in chicken broth, bring to boiling, then cover and lower heat to simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes; a string will separate from the seed when it's cooked. Remove from heat, stir and then cover until needed.

In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sprinkle with salt. Stir together to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally until sides of some pieces have browned, about five minutes.

Stir in lime/honey sauce, about half the pine nuts and a tablespoon of chopped fresh basil. Combine with quinoa mixture. When served, garnish with basil bits and reserved pine nuts.