Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Swiss Chard Salad

When you read a lot of food blogs, you notice certain trends and you find yourself interested in certain cookbooks and chefs and writers that are raved about on one or several of your favorite blogs. For example, before Christmas, I found myself inevitably, somewhat blindly enamored with a British chef/writer named Yotam Ottolenghi, who's been discussed at Lottie + Doof, 101 Cookbooks, and Smitten Kitchen (to name just the first few that come to mind). He owns several restaurants in London, writes a weekly column in The Guardian, and has published two cookbooks: Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, published last year, and now Plenty, scheduled for release in the states on March 23rd. (Maybe a good birthday present for someone whose birthday happens to be that day? Just made a mental note.) Around Christmas time (during which we celebrate the coming of Baby Jesus and update our wish lists), I couldn't wait until March, and also there was no indication of an American release at that time, so I got the British version of the book for my birthday from my terribly, wonderfully generous in-laws. (Which edition would've been better to own in the long run is a toss up: I have to do a lot of weighing and converting if I want to precisely follow the recipes in the British version. On the other hand, I prefer its way funkier cover (and don't often follow recipes v. precisely).)

Anyway. What started out as blind - it was rather everybody-else-is-doing-it of me, augmented by an endless personal fascination with all-things-British - has turned into an informed, v. justifiable love of this man and his creative exploits in the kitchen. What's more: as soon as spring becomes a reality here in the midwest and I am tripping over all the CSA vegetables that end up taking over my home for six months of the year, I am going to love this book even more. The recipes are all vegetarian (though Ottolenghi himself is not vegetarian), and the cookbook offers a stunning array of ways to creatively use whole grains, legumes, vegetables, good quality dairy, and loads of obscure, exotic spices. It is a truly inspiring volume. Amazing photography. Useful recipe notes. It's organized by veggie, which I find cool. Its presence in our home has resulted in trips to the spice store and Middle Eastern grocery, has enhanced both the nutritiousness and deliciousness of our meatless meals, and has really cut into my parenting book and novel reading. Yep. Need some good bedtime reading? Plenty, it is.

I speak in extremes and use a lot of superlatives. I know it. But for whatever it's worth: Plenty is my new favorite cookbook. (It might be yours too someday.)

salad ready to be tossed

The first thing I have to share from my new favorite cookbook is adapted quite a bit, not because I didn't have every intention of following the recipe to a T, but because I made some errors along the way regarding measurements and cook times. It's meant to be a wild rice recipe, and I had bought the wild rice blend that it called for but then read on the packaging that it takes almost an hour to cook. I didn't realize that and we were hungry. I was also nervous about using too much of the ground Iranian dried lime, as it smells v. potent and foreign. So anyway. Shortcuts were taken. Substitutions were made. Spices were adjusted. It turned out absolutely wonderful nonetheless.

sweet potatoes and quinoa
mise en place
tossed ottolenghi salad

Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Swiss Chard Salad
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
Yield: 4 servings

Notes: Have all your fresh herbs, greens, garlic and onions ready to go before you start anything else. (Or right after you put sweet potatoes in the oven.)

1 lb sweet potato (1 large or 2 small-medium)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 large leaves swiss chard, sliced into thin ribbons (about 1-2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 teaspoons dried Iranian lime*
3 tablespoons shredded spearmint
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Juice of one lemon
2 ounces feta
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scrub the sweet potatoes a bit and cut them into about an inch dice. Spread on a baking sheet, toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, cook the quinoa according to package instructions. (Or: place the quinoa in a pan with two cups of water; simmer for 9-10 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed; fluff with a fork.) When done, transfer the quinoa to a large serving bowl.

Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small frying pan. Fry the garlic and swiss chard for about a minute. Add the sage and oregano and stir as your fry for about a minute more. Pour the contents of the pan, scraping out as much oil as possible, over the quinoa.

Next, add the roast sweet potato with its oil. Add the lime powder, spearmint, green onions, and lemon juice. Crumble the feta on top and finish with some salt and pepper. Toss everything v. gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

I reheated the leftovers the next day in the microwave for about thirty seconds (just to take refrigerator chill out), drizzled a little more olive oil on top, and it was even better. The flavors married beautifully and the cheese got just a little melty. Delicious.

* I realize you might not be as keen on finding obscure, exotic spices at Middle Eastern grocers as I am - regardless of how insanely cheap they are once you find them (like two bucks!). Dried Iranian limes are available in big bags, whole, and kind of look like large walnuts. While Ottolenghi says that grinding whole limes yourself makes for a more flavorful powder, and is thus ideal, I just bought a ground version (the person I talked to at the store assured me it was the same thing) and it was quite flavorful: slightly fruity, with a tad of sourness, and then a little earthy as well. Some alternatives that I think would work (but I haven't tried) are: finely minced fresh lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves; amchur powder (use a little less though, as it is stronger than the Iranian limes); zest of an orange or lime or grapefruit, as finely grated/minced as possible; or as a last resort, some more lemon juice.


  1. Just tried this-- loved it! I didn't have dried limes, or spearmint, or scallions. Used red onion stir-fried with red chard, put rosemary in the oven with sweet potatoes, used dried sage and oregano, in other words, improvised, but it was wonderful!

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe and were able to adapt it so well. That's the best thing about "Plenty" - the recipes have obscure ingredients and v. precise instructions, and yet as you read them you can tell they'll still be great after substitutions or shortcuts.