i know we’ve been on a bit of an asparagus bender recently (here, here, and here) but i can’t help it! i love asparagus and i think it’s one of the vegetables that suffers most out of season (well, along with tomatoes, corn, berries… ok, maybe several of my favorites are at the more seasonally dependent end of the spectrum).
because asparagus season is so fleeting, every spring i go on an asparagus spree, determined to enjoy as many meals as possible with asparagus. while i don’t get sick of asparagus during its short season, i do enjoy trying out new flavor combinations and types of dishes.
this particular combination of asparagus, quinoa, feta, pistachios, mint, citrus, etc. includes a new ingredient for me: pistachios. as incredible as it sounds, i’ve never really had pistachios before. i’m sure i’ve eaten things ever in my life that had pistachio flavor but if you had asked me to describe the taste of a pistachio, i would be at a complete loss. even now, i’ve eaten so few of them, relative to other foods over 30+ years, that i still can’t describe their taste without going to the kitchen to eat one.
for this asparagus quinoa, though, i knew from the beginning i wanted to have some sort of crunch, likely from a nut. to figure out what nut might pair well with the combination i had dreamed up so far, i turned to the vegetarian flavor bible. as i was looking up the ingredients i knew i wanted to include (asparagus, feta, orange, mint, and lemon), i noticed that pistachios kept coming up on the list of flavors that paired well, which made it pretty easy to decide on which nut to try adding.
as a pistachio newbie, i didn’t realize that “dry roasted” didn’t necessarily mean unsalted so the salty nuts combined with some unpredictably very salty feta from the farmers’ market made the overall dish pretty salty. i know i’m way over on the far end of the loves salt/hates salt end of the spectrum but, still, taste your ingredients before dumping them all in and adjust quantities accordingly if both the cheese and nuts are heavy on salt. i’d hate for even a single stalk of precious spring asparagus to be lost to an overly salty batch of asparagus quinoa with feta and pistachios!
asparagus quinoa with feta and pistachios
- 5 7/8 oz. (168 g. / 1 cup) uncooked quinoa
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 bunch asparagus, rinsed, ends snapped off
- 2 oz. (58 g. / ½ cup) shelled, dry roasted (ideally unsalted) pistachios, roughly chopped
- zest of 1 orange
- juice from half an orange (i ended up with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 4 ¼ oz. (119 g. / 1 cup) crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, slivered
- ¼ cup fresh basil, slivered
- cook the quinoa according to the package directions. when it’s done cooking, drain (if necessary), then spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool (so it doesn’t melt the feta or wilt the herbs).
- set a small sauté pan over low heat and add the olive oil. while the oil is heating, set the peeled garlic on the cutting board then lay the side of a chef’s knife blade on top of the cloves and gently press down with the heel of your hand. the goal is to crush the garlic cloves a little bit but still have them remain in one piece. add the garlic to the oil and simmer the garlic for a few minutes to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor. the garlic should take on a golden color but it should not brown; we don’t want bitter/harsh garlic flavored oil. when the garlic is golden colored, remove the pan from the heat and leave the garlic in the oil to continue infusing while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- set a medium sauté pan with about an inch of water in it over high heat. once the water is boiling (this will happen quickly), add the asparagus and blanch them for 1 – 2 minutes, tops. i like when the asparagus retains crunch but the raw flavor is cooked off. drain the asparagus and transfer to a cutting board. cut into 1 inch lengths.
- to make the dressing, remove the garlic from the oil (either discard or reserve for another use). combine the oil, orange juice, and white wine vinegar in a small jar and shake to combine.
- in a large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa, asparagus, pistachios (see notes), orange zest, and dressing. stir well to thoroughly combine. add the feta, mint, and basil then stir gently to combine without mashing up the cheese and herbs.
- enjoy at room temperature.
leftovers may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days. i will usually microwave leftovers just a little bit to take the chill off, recognizing that the feta will end up slightly melty.
as i said above, taste your pistachios and feta before adding them in and if either/both of them are very salty, you may wish to adjust the quantities to avoid having an overly salty finished dish.
asparagus quinoa with feta and pistachios
Serves: 4 - 6
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
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