Chickpea & Asparagus Quinoa Salad

Last week was quite an experience for me. For L’s senior week – the week between finals and graduation where most people go to the beach and drink themselves silly – we chose to return to campus for a relaxing few days. The first half of the week, we holed ourselves up in his room and did a whole lot of nothing much. The second half, one of his suitemates and his girlfriend came up, and we did a few touristy things, took walks, played Frisbee golf, and got more sunburnt than I care to admit. It was a nice week, but there’s one part of it that posed a bit of a challenge: no dining hall options. All food venues on campus closed down and L’s meal plan expired along with his last final, so we were left to fend for ourselves in the jungle of unwashed pots and pans and stained countertops that is the communal kitchen in his dorm. He has a full-size refrigerator, a sink, and a microwave in his suite, but there’s only one central oven for the full dorm building and let me tell you – it’s skeevy. Majorly skeevy. But it was either brave the communal kitchen or starve/live off of PB&J for 3 square meals a day for a full week (or I guess order take out constantly, but this goes back to all 4 of us being poor college students). Skeevy kitchen it was.

A few good meals did come out of these less-than-ideal circumstances, though tweaking the end result was necessary on most occasions and I learned the absolute importance of tasting meals as you go, particularly when the only measuring utensil you have is a plastic 1.5C liquid measuring cup. When I made the dressing for this particular chickpea & asparagus quinoa salad (originally a brown rice salad), I was very heavy-handed with the peanut butter (very surprising, I’m sure) and a little shy with the lemon.  I added more lemon to the leftovers for lunch the next day and was significantly more satisfied with that, as the original attempt was a little heavy from the imbalanced ingredients. I also think this would be better with tahini (what the original called for) or even almond butter (to complement the almonds in the dish), but the peanut butter was successful enough that I can assure you it will work with whatever nut butter you have on hand. You could even forgo the nut butter altogether and make it more of a vinaigrette by substituting sesame oil. I found the original to be a little on the bland side, so I added salt, pepper, and a little cinnamon, which really perked the dish right up. I also added a handful of spinach the next day to bulk up the veggie content, and I really liked it that way. L really liked it the first night (he didn’t have any of the leftovers), but found it so filling (without meat! Crazy!) that he couldn’t even finish his portion of it.


Chickpea & Asparagus Quinoa Salad
This dish is simple vegetarian fare at its best: clean but refreshing flavors, filling, and yet still light enough for the warmer weather that’s descending upon us. 

Yield: 3-4 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour 15 minutes1
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

The Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
15 ounces chickpeas, drained and rinsed if canned
3 garlic cloves, divided & minced
¾ large onion, diced
½ bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
2 cups cooked and chilled quinoa
3 tablespoons nut butter2
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons hot water
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
cinnamon, to taste
6 tablespoons toasted almonds3

The Method
Heat ½ tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the chickpeas. Cook, allowing them to pop as they heat up, until they start turning golden. (Be careful, as some may pop so exuberantly as to escape the skillet!) Add in 2 cloves’ worth of minced garlic and continue cooking until the chickpeas become crispy. Transfer to a dish or plate and return the skillet to the heat. Add the onions and, if necessary, a little more oil. Cook until they, too, become golden, 4-5 minutes. Cut the asparagus spears into 1-inch slices and stir those into the onions and cook until they begin to soften slightly, just a few minutes. Transfer the asparagus-onion mixture to the same dish or plate as the chickpeas.

Add another drizzle of oil, if necessary, to the pan and stir in the quinoa. Allow it to warm and stir it occasionally so that each seed is allowed the chance to brown a little. Return the chickpea-vegetable mixture to the pan and toss it to incorporate all of the ingredients and warm it through.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing: combine the nut butter, lemon juice, 1 ½ tablespoons of oil, the hot water, and 1 clove’s worth of minced garlic in a lidded container. Close the light tightly and shake to emulsify. Remove the lid and pour over the quinoa mixture on the stovetop. Stir to distribute and season with a little salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon if desired, then transfer to either one serving dish or divide into equal portions and garnish with the almonds to serve.

Source, adapted: Dinner with Julie

1This is an estimation based on the need for precooked and chilled quinoa; if you make it earlier in the week or utilize leftovers, your prep time should only be about 5 minutes.
2The original called for tahini and I used peanut butter, but I think almond butter would be even more fabulous than either of them.
3The original called for sliced almonds but I only had a scant tablespoon or so, so I used those and made up for the rest by coarsely chopping whole roasted almonds. Use whatever you have available – it’ll work, I promise!

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