If you're anything like me, this is exactly the kind of food you're starting to crave. The sun is out longer, the air is warmer, and I'm beginning to transition from braises and stews to the fresh, no-fuss cooking that tends to dominate spring and summer.
This dish reminded me that I should really think about lunch more often. The main focus of my meal planning is for weeknight cooking which more often than not leaves us with leftovers to bring to work the next day. Weekend cooking is a little more free form. I do tend to plan a dish in advance, but I'm always open to changing my mind, or meeting friends for dinner at the last minute. It's those pesky weekend lunches that I almost never devote any time to. But it's time to change that.
This salad really did it. You know about my plan to consciously make a better effort to eat more fish this year, and this is the perfect example of going with the flow and letting the freshest ingredients inspire you. I walked to Whole Foods on Saturday morning to pick up a few items for the coming week. Before arriving, I decided to pick up some fish to make for lunch. It seemed indulgent at first, the idea of making such a show out of a typically thoughtless meal, but then I thought of the benefits. This salad is so healthy it kept me fueled all afternoon and boosted my energy with avocado, salmon, a citrus vinaigrette and quinoa, the protein powerhouse. Plus, it tasted really incredible.
Before choosing the salmon, I had no plans to speak of. I knew quinoa was always an option, but I wasn't sure what to have alongside it. There was still one avocado left in the pantry, not quite enough to make a proper bowl of guacamole, so it needed to find its purpose as a garnish. Enter salmon salad. The watercress looked especially appealing, plus it was on sale, an added bonus, so I tossed it into my cart and walked to the register completely inspired for what was to come. The rest came together on my walk home. I brainstormed to Andrew who wasn't entirely following me. Would the salad be on top of the fish, or under it, he wondered. It was a good question. I didn't really know, and that's the beauty of this entire experience and the way it unfolded. It just revealed itself as I went along.
WATERCRESS AND QUINOA SALAD WITH ROASTED SALMON
As far as plating is concerned, anything goes here. You could flake the salmon and toss everything together in one bowl, or place the salad on the side instead of on top of the fish. Just follow your instincts. I cooked it about four times before I finally settled on the perfect amount of time to roast salmon, and it will vary with each oven. For me, it's 425 degrees for exactly 13 minutes, but some recipes recommend 15 to 17 minutes. It's important to check for doneness early on, and stay calm if it becomes slightly dry. Just practice, practice, practice, and soon you'll have the perfect method that works for you.
1 6 to 8 ounce salmon filet
1 cup quinoa
1/2 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, cubed
Juice of half a lemon
Drizzle of honey
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch watercress, about 4 cups
Prepare salmon by placing it in a small baking dish and seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper; not too much, you want the flavor of the salmon to shine through, but the fish should be properly seasoned. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon or so extra virgin olive oil. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a small saucepan, bring quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered until tender and all the water is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
While the quinoa cooks, roast the salmon for 12-15 minutes, until succulent and perfectly cooked through. The cooking time will vary depending on your oven and the thickness of the filet. Begin checking for doneness at 12 minutes. There is nothing worse than overcooked salmon.
Don't forget to wash and dry the watercress so it's ready for plating.
In a large bowl, add lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk in 3 to 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a slow stream, until the dressing is creamy. Add a drizzle of honey and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
To assemble, spoon quinoa into two plates or low bowls (you may have some left over). Cut salmon into two equal pieces and nestle it into the quinoa. Add watercress to the dressing and gently toss with your hands until evenly coated. Add the cucumber and avocado, then arrange a large mound of lettuce on each plate, either on top of the salmon or on the side.