The sound of grasses whispering in the wind, tides crashing up against rocks; the tastes of dungeness crab, wild mushrooms, crisp beers kissed with hops; the sight of the Pacific fading from ice-blue to pink at the horizon, someone’s footsteps stamped in a staccato march across the charcoal gray sand.
The first week back at work after a long vacation is brutal. It doesn’t matter where you went, or how long you stayed — it’s difficult to make that transition a smooth one. Dano and I spent the past two weeks working our way from San Francisco, to Mendocino, to Ashland and Portland, Oregon, visiting friends and family, awestruck, delighted — and savoring some really amazing meals together. Re-entry has been hard, and the red eye flight home — and the subsequent three-hour drive to our house — didn’t really help matters. I find myself awake for hours, moodily, at three in the morning, plowing through the remnants of novels once abandoned, then sleeping late, my internal clock a bit hazy.
We promised ourselves we’d eat well upon our return — such was our gluttony while away. (Have you guys ever been to Portland, Oregon? This was my fourth visit, but holy hell, the food scene there is insane.) And mostly we’ve stuck to it, making hearty but interesting and nutritious meals bolstered mainly by Dano having obtained, before we left, the really fantastic Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Plenty is a delight to cook from — all vegetarian recipes with unique and unexpected flavors using simple and surprising ingredients. Last night, we cooked a dish using Persian lime — something we happened to have, but had never used before.
Persian limes are rock-hard, brown dried little orbs. They give off a great citrusy, sweet, and sort of barnyard scent that you sometimes find in wine — and which I happen to like a lot. Wondering, as we were, what the heck to do with them, we were overjoyed to see this simple and fun little recipe. Ottolenghi recommends tossing them whole into stews, where they’ll perfume the whole pot, but for this recipe you grind them up in a spice grinder. (We use an old coffee grinder.) One Persian lime makes about two tablespoons ground, which is exactly what you need for this recipe. As far as we can tell, they last forever. No Persian lime? You can order it ground from Kalyustan’s, or search for it at a local middle eastern market.
The flavors are bold, layering bright, sharp herbs like mint and oregano with the subtle warmth of sage, and the zesty funk of Persian lime. It makes a great light dinner, or you could serve it as a side dish in a larger meal.
Warm Quinoa Salad with Persian Lime Recipe
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
I like to “shred” the herbs by stacking them one atop the other, then thinly slicing through the stack. If your mint or sage is large, you could also roll up the stack and slice through the roll, chiffonade-style.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 7 tbsp. olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 c. basmati rice
- 1 c. quinoa
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp. shredded sage leaves
- 3 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 2 tbsp. ground Persian lime
- 6 tbsp. shredded fresh mint
- 4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 6 oz. feta, broken into small chunks
- Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut roughly into 1/2-inch dice. Spread on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, drizzle with half the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.
- Meanwhile, cook the rice. (Most basmati does fine in a 1-to-2 ratio, rice to water, for about 30 minutes. Indian cookbooks always say to rinse basmati “till the water runs clear,” but I almost never do.) Bring another small pot of water to boil and add the quinoa, cooking for about 10 minutes. Drain the quinoa into a fine sieve and leave to dry. Put the cooked, but still warm, rice and quinoa in a large mixing bowl.
- Heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan, then fry the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it turns light golden. Add the sage and oregano, and fry, stirring, for about a minute — make sure nothing burns.
- Add the contents of the pan to the rice and quinoa, then stir in the roasted sweet potato and its oil. Add the dried lime, mint, spring onion, lemon juice, feta and salt and pepper, toss together gently. The sweet potato might want to get mushy, so take care. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm, or at room temperature, garnished with more scallion, and a light dusting of fleur de sel, if you have it.