The Chef's Take: Quinoa Salad with Lemon and Chickpeas, Einat Admony

At the multiple Middle Eastern eateries Einat Admony owns in lower Manhattan -- the restaurant Balaboosta as well as the Taïm falafel franchise -- the chef pays homage to her upbringing with remarkable care. Not only does she skillfully prepare honest renditions of the fresh and flavorful cooking she grew up eating, but Admony makes sure her dishes are nourishing too. "I treat my customers the way I treat my kids," she says, "which means giving them good proteins, whole grains and keeping a vegetable focus."

Israeli-born Admony grew up amid a panoply of Middle Eastern cuisines. At home, there were the dishes her Iranian mother and Yemeni father prepared; just beyond, Tel Aviv's vibrant markets and vegetable-heavy dishes beckoned. This quinoa salad, a popular lunch staple at Balaboosta (the name is Yiddish for the perfect homemaker), is a testament to the superlative grain dishes Admony enjoyed in that city. Once cooked, the tiny ancient grains pop open. Then Admony tosses the quinoa with a mixture of chickpeas, preserved lemon, shallots, dried cranberries and fresh cilantro for texture and zest. Plenty of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil help season the dish.

"My mom is Iranian so I grew up with the best rice in the world," says Admony. While her mother favored white basmati rice, Admony employs a healthier grain in this preparation. "For me, using brown rice is out of the question. I do not like it," she says. "But quinoa has a lot of protein and a flavor that isn't overwhelming. So I use that instead. A lot of people don’t like quinoa because they think it's too dry, but when they have this salad they say it is the best they have ever had. It is our signature." For a chef known for making a host of beautiful, wholesome dishes, that's saying something.

Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon and Chickpeas

Makes 4 (1-cup) servings
1½ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2½ cups water
⅓ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup thinly sliced preserved lemon
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro

¼ cup thinly sliced shallots, fried in olive oil until crisp (or left raw)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of ground black pepper

Combine the quinoa and water in a medium, lidded pot. Set pot over high heat and bring water to a boil. Lower heat so water gently simmers, and cover pot. Simmer quinoa another 15 minutes and remove from the heat. Let grains stand, covered, for another 5 minutes. Strain and allow to cool completely.

Just before serving, place the ingredients together in a large bowl and toss to combine.

Kitty Greenwald is a Brooklyn-based food writer and recipe developer. She eats a lot for work and pleasure. Her column Slow Food Fast appears in the Wall Street Journal.

Photo by Miranda Van Gelder

Portrait courtesy of Balaboosta
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