This salad will forever be the centerpiece of the best picnic lunch that I ever made.
A few years back, I took a day off work and went to Six Flags amusement park with two of my dearest friends. We were feeling nostalgic and desirous of roller coasters. We packed a lunch (to save money and to spare ourselves the grim amusement park fare) and headed out for a day of joy. But after a few hours, the day was not looking good. It was brutally hot and standing in lines in that heat for the first few hours quickly sapped us of our enthusiasm. By lunchtime, we were wondering if we had made a giant mistake in agreeing to spend an entire day there but none of us wanted to be the one to pull the plug. We dragged ourselves out to the car for the lunch that I stashed in a cooler in the trunk — roast beef and spinach on focaccia, blueberry crumble, and this salad.
It’s amazing what a good meal can do. It can turn a whole day around. We sat under a tree and devoured that meal and then we went back into the park and had a fantastic day. So for me, this salad will always be that moment when a disappointing day suddenly starts looking good again.
My nostalgia aside, this is a seriously good salad and it is perfect for summer. I have given this recipe to several people and there are two things about it that generally give people pause – cooking quinoa and dicing a mango.
If you are one of those people who is afraid of cooking quinoa, don’t be. If you can cook rice, you can cook quinoa. Just like anything that is being cooked in liquid, it is more a matter of learning your stove and your cookware then learning the ingredient. Depending on the size and quality of your saucepan, it will respond differently to heat. The time to get the water to boil and the level of simmer will vary. So keep an eye on it the first few times you make it. You’ll learn quickly that with this pan on that stove, your proper cooking time is actually 13 minutes and then you can set a timer and walk away confident in the perfect quinoa coming your way.
Dicing a mango can be messy business. That big pit at the center is hard to work around and peeling a mango can wind up with you losing a lot of the tasty flesh inside. So the easy answer is…don’t bother working around the pit and do not peel it. Holding the mango with one hand, stand it on its end, stem side down. With a sharp knife in your other hand, cut from the top of the mango, down one side of the pit. Repeat on the other side. You will have three fairly equal size slices of mango — two sides and the center with the pit. Set the center piece aside for now. Take the two slices and, using a smaller paring knife, make lengthwise and widthwise cuts (careful not to cut through the skin) so that you have a grid of squares (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch, depending on how big you want your mango pieces). Depending on the ripeness of your mango, you may be able to pluck off the mango pieces, but if not, you can use the paring knife to slice them off the skin. Then take the center piece of mango, remove the skin and cut pieces from around the pit. (You might not get much mango out of it but if you feel the same way I do about mango, you will take every bit that you can.)
This salad keeps nicely in the fridge for about a week. It will also heartily survive half a day in a cooler in the sweltering heat of a locked trunk and be the perfect lunch. Trust me.
Mango Quinoa Salad with Curry Dressing
(Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
1 1/3 cups quinoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large mangoes
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and diced
3 scallions, including an inch of greens, thinly sliced
Curry Vinaigrette (recipe below)
1/4 almonds, roasted (optional)
First, make the curry dressing and set aside. (See recipe below)
Thoroughly rinse the quinoa (even if your quinoa box says you do not need to, do it anyways) and then add it to a saucepan with 3 cups of water and the salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. When the quinoa is done, you should see tiny spirals (the germ) separating from and curling around the quinoa seeds. Drain the quinoa.
While the quinoa is cooking, dice the mangoes and the jalapeno and slice the scallions.
Toss the quinoa with the mangoes, chile, scallions, and vinaigrette. Chop the almonds and add them last so they stay crisp.
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons curry powder
Zest from one lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice
5 tablespoons light olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Pound or mince garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a mortar until the form a smooth paste. Combine the garlic and salt with yogurt and curry powder in small bowl. Stir in the lemon juice, then whisk in the oil. Let stand 15 minutes, then stir in cilantro. Taste for tartness and salt and adjust as needed.
BONUS TIP: I was inspired to post this after sending this recipe to a friend who had a mango surplus. She reported back that she highly recommends making the salad in advance as it is so good chilled, tossed with some greens and a little extra dressing. She speaks truth.