In many parts of California, the spring days can be warm and invigorating, but evenings can be chilly. After winter’s heavier menu, a spring diet should be light but substantial, and moist with the green produce, now growing in abundance. Spring is the season for eliminating the old and starting anew. Leafy greens can help your digestion by purging the old with their roughage and igniting new energy with their minerals and enzymes. Health practitioners also advise that a balanced spring menu should be plant-centered and contain less dairy, meat, fat, and sweets. Here are three nutritious salads made with spring vegetables and grains that are easy to digest. Each of these salads store well. Bring some for lunch, and eat outside in the spring sunshine!
Quinoa and Basmati Rice Pilaf
Quinoa, a grain-like seed, is new to the United States but has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for thousands of years. Due to its superior nutritional profile, this “grain” was historically reserved for royalty. Quinoa is high in protein and minerals and low in gluten, so it is often a viable choice for people who cannot tolerate gluten. Quinoa cooks quickly, in about 15 minutes, as does white basmati rice, so the two grains can be cooked together. They can even be cooked ahead of time, and combined with vegetables later.
½ cup quinoa
2/3 cup white basmati rice
2 cups water
½ teaspoon oil (optional)
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped green onions (scallions) including some of their greens
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup red or yellow bell pepper, chopped very fine
2 to 3 cups very finely chopped curly green kale (stems removed)
½ teaspoon each ground turmeric, cumin, and coriander
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
A few tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, stems removed
Rinse the grains and drain them completely. Boil water with the optional oil and salt and add the grains. When the mixture comes to a second boil, turn the heat down and simmer the grains slowly for about 15 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and dimples appear on the surface. Turn off the heat and keep the pot covered while cooking the vegetables.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the scallion for a few minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a minute, and then add the peppers. Continue to sauté the vegetables for five minutes and then add the kale, powdered spices, salt, and lemon juice. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the kale has just wilted. Do not overcook. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cilantro.
Spread the cooked grain on a plate and allow it to cool at room temperature. Then combine with the vegetables and adjust the seasoning, Serve the pilaf warm, or refrigerate for the future use.
2 cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
5 to 6 cups minced parsley leaves, after washing, draining and removing stems
2 cups minced mint leaves, after washing, draining and removing stems
2 bunches of green onions (scallions) chopped finely, with some their greens
2 cups cucumber, peeled and cut into cubes
½ cup minced green or red bell pepper
A few cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper (or to taste)
First soak the bulgur in a quart of warm water for ½ hour. Bulgur is already parboiled, so it does not need to be cooked. While the bulgur is soaking, prepare the vegetables as listed above.
Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar by shaking them thoroughly. Set it aside.
Drain the bulgur using a fine sieve. Then, remove any excess liquid by squeezing it a fistful at a time.
In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped vegetables and the drained bulgur. Slowly add the dressing, tasting as you go to obtain the desired consistency and flavor. Do not use too much dressing as the vegetables can produce more liquid at the salad rests. If needed, more dressing can be added later. Serve right away, or refrigerate for future use.
Variation: Wheat-free Tabouli
In place of bulgur, use 3 cups of cooked quinoa and basmati rice mix (recipe above) after it has been cooled at room temperature. Prepare rest of the ingredients as listed above and follow the recipe.
Italian Pasta Salad With Pesto
2 quarts of water
2 cups large pasta noodles such as penne or bow ties
½ cup chopped green onion (with the greens) or chives
½ cup yellow or red bell pepper
1½ cups broccoli florets
1½ cups zucchini cut into small cubes
2 cups carrots cut into small cubes
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
cup or less olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
Salt to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons of good quality balsamic vinegar.
Boil 2 quarts of water in a large pot and add the pasta. Boil for ten minutes until pasta is cooked but not too soft. Drain the pasta. Rinse in cold water and set aside.
Place the pesto ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree finely. Transfer the pesto to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. For this recipe, you will need only a small amount. The rest can be refrigerated or frozen for future use.
Next, place broccoli, zucchini, and carrots in a vegetable steamer and steam them for just a few minutes so that they are cooked but still crunchy. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a mixing bowl and add the pasta. Mix in a few tablespoons of the pesto dressing so that the pasta salad is thoroughly green but not drenched. Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning while mixing all ingredients and tasting the salad.
Serve it warm or save for future use.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student.
This article was first published in April 2011.