A quest for gastro-liberation, an excuse to buy more cookbooks…

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Quinoa as mustard?

Okay. As a pun, I do realise that is stretching it but quinoa is remarkably difficult to make funny (despite the Waitrose, credit-card hippy affiliations of the would-be grain).

ANYWAY. Let’s move on from my terrible pun and onto my conversion to yet another relative of the beetroot family: quinoa. For a long time, I had joyfully steered away from anything containing quinoa. It always seemed too smug and wholesome, with its Mrs-Bucket-like moniker pretensions. Then I discovered the Leon superfood salad and it converted me. It was no longer the low-GI food beloved of LA starlets; San Francisco hipsters and Birkenstock-shod urban hippies. It was like a odd, wonky-looking version of couscous.

Look, I’m not going to pretend that it’s a game changer en seule. Like rice, pasta, couscous and lentils, it is but a blank canvas that you start out with. It needs the lavish attention of more boisterous playmates like roasted squash and aubergine; aromatic rose petal harissa; and creamy tahini shot through with a bolt of lemon juice.

I’m not even going to pretend that this is really anything that you need to be told how to make. This salad was begat purely out of hunger and my never-ending affair with any dish kissed with the merest whisper of middle-eastern cuisine. Make it with whatever is lurking, unloved and shy at the back of the vegetable drawer. Onions made sweet and smoky from being placed under the grill; a verdant selection of steamed seasonal greens such as asparagus and purple-sprouting broccoli; griddled ribbons of courgette; or crescents of roasted beets. Take your pick, I’m not prescriptive about it. Well, make the tahini dressing. That’s the only thing I’d urge.

Quinoa and roasted vegetable tahini salad

For those who are not blessed with a Waitrose, Whole Foods or middle-eastern shop nearby, quinoa, tahini and harissa may be a bit more challenging to come by. I have found harissa in large corner shops before, kept with the spices and tahini and quinoa tend to be carried by large supermarkets. And it’s not me being a glib Londoner but we do live in the age of the Internet now, Melbury and Appleton carry a good selection.

1 small squash

1 medium aubergine

60g quinoa

two handfuls of lamb’s lettuce

olive oil



chilli flakes

cumin seeds

lemon juice

salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6/200c. Peel, de-seed and dice the squash into generous, large chunks. Do the same with the aubergine. Remember that roasted vegetables shrink and you want a hefty, manly mouthful. No half measures here.

In a small bowl, mix together a generous teaspoon of harissa; a pinch of chilli flakes; a teaspoon of cumin seeds; two tablespoons of olive oil; and salt and pepper. Toss the squash and aubergine in this marinade and then roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the aubergine starts to caramelise slightly.

Meanwhile, put the kettle on and measure out your quinoa. Once the water has boiled, add it to the quinoa in a small pan and gently simmer for around 20 minutes until the water has evaporated.

While the quinoa and vegetables are cooking, whisk together two teaspoons of tahini with the juice of a lemon. Loosen the dressing to the consistency of natural yoghurt by adding in olive oil and season to taste.

Once everything is cooked, toss the quinoa in the roasting tray with the vegetables so that it soaks up the remainder of the harissa marinade. Pile atop the lamb’s lettuce and drizzle generously with the tahini dressing.

Baby spinach would be my choice for the green base for this salad but alas, all I had was lamb’s lettuce (please feel free to mock that sentence all you want). Chunks of salty feta or slices of grilled halloumi would not go remiss either.