Easy Weeknight Dinners // Un-Recipe No. 14:
Lemon Vinaigrette Stuffed Sweet Potato With Fennel and Quinoa
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Roasted pecans, quinoa, and chickpeas mix with fresh fennel and a punchy lemon vinaigrette to make this protein-packed stuffed sweet potato bursting with spring flavors. Pin this post.
Baked Sweet Potatoes (pssst: >> how bake sweet potatoes for stuffing)
Prep For Lemon Vinaigrette Stuffed Sweet Potato:
Here’s how to prepare it: take about a cup of quinoa seeds (best found in the bulk section of your grocery store) and toast them over high-heat in a large saucepan for about 5 minutes. You’ll start to smell a nutty aroma similar to sesame seeds and hear a few “pop-pops” as if you were making popcorn on the stovetop. This toasting step is crucial for unlocking the full flavor of the grain. Additionally, some people find quinoa tastes a bit soapy. Pre-toasting dispels that slightly unpleasant undertone. While toasting, watch the quinoa closely and be careful to not let it burn.
Once toasted, remove quinoa from the saucepan and place in a bowl momentarily. Add water, a splash of oil and a pinch of salt to the saucepan. The ratio for cooking quinoa is 2:1 grain to water. So if you toasted 1 cup of quinoa, boil 2 cups of water. Once the water is boiling, add the toasted quinoa, cover the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, remove the lid and fluff with a fork. You should see little “tails” on all the quinoa grains. If there is any liquid in the pan, continue cooking uncovered until it is all cooked off. You can also add another Tbs. or so of oil here if you like. Usually, if I’m serving for guests, I’ll always add a bit more oil because extra fat makes everything taste better. If it’s just a typical Monday at home and I don’t want the extra calories I won’t bother, as the quinoa and the dish is plenty satisfying without.
2. Pan Roast The Chickpeas: Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Take a 15oz can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), rinse off the goo and place in the pan. Add a squirt of lemon juice, a dash of dried oregano and basil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until the chickpeas are coated in the herby-oil mixture and let them simmer on the pan for 20 minutes or so over low heat, stirring occasionally. The purpose is to heat them thoroughly while giving the edges a subtle golden roast. Roast them “low and slow” to avoid burning and get the optimal texture.
3. Toast The Pecans: Easy-peasy. See Candied Sweet Potatoes for the best way to toast pecans.
4. Make The Lemon Vinaigrette: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Take the juice of one lemon, a few Tbs. of olive oil, a few Tbs. of white vinegar and whisk vigorously in a bowl. Add a couple tsp of dried oregano, basil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Remove the thin, feathery fronds from the fennel and add them to the bowl. Then add a liberal squirt of mustard — dijon or yellow will do. Whisk until emulsified and the herbs are suspended in a thick liquid.
If you have fresh oregano and basil on hand, use those. Keep in mind dried herbs are more potent than fresh ones, so you’ll only need about a third of what you would otherwise use. Like all Stuffed Sweet Potato Monday un-recipes, this is not an exact science. These flavors naturally go well together and you’re not going to screw up your lemon vinaigrette by adding too much or too little of anything. Taste often and play with the proportions until you have a dressing that you love.
5. Cut The Fennel: Take a fennel bulb and cut off the green stalks. The stalks are inedible, save for the feathery fronds that can be used as a garnish. Stand the bulb on its base vertically and cut it in half. Remove the core of from each half bulb by cutting a out a triangle.
Then set the flat edge of each half bulb on the cutting board and cut into thin slices. Chop the slices if you want smaller pieces. You should smell the wonderful aroma of licorice as you cut the bulb.
6. Assemble The Lemon Vinaigrette Stuffed Sweet Potato: When everything is done cooking, place a scoop of cooked quinoa inside each sweet potato. Top with a drizzle of the lemon vinaigrette so the quinoa can absorb the flavor. Then add a small scoop of chickpeas. Top with the thinly sliced fennel, a small handful of toasted pecans and garnish with more of the feathery fennel fronds. Add another drizzle of vinaigrette if you desire.
Fennel. If you like the flavor of licorice or absinthe, then you like fennel. It’s subtly sweet and has a lovely crunch. For me, nothing screams Spring quite like the aromatic flavor of fennel mixed with lemon.
For The Win:
Always Make Your Own Dressing. I’ve felt for a long time that buying salad dressings at the grocery store is a complete waste of money. Not only is store-bought salad dressing composed of otherwise dirt-cheap pantry staples repackaged in an over-priced bottle, but it usually has a bunch of other not-so-appealing ingredients like preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup (not to mention an alarmingly high sodium content). Once I started making more foods from scratch my taste buds evolved and many processed foods off the shelf started to taste too sweet and/or salty. I much prefer my salads to have the natural zing of lemon and a well-rounded earthiness of fresh or dried herbs. It takes literally minutes to throw a lemon vinaigrette together with ingredients every home chef has on hand; it seems downright silly to ever purchase one.
Use This Formula For Lots Of Summer Salads. This un-recipe would be a complete meal even without the sweet potato! You can use the components of this un-recipe for a multitude of summer sides and salads. Here are a few ideas:
1. Toss lemon vinaigrette with the cooled, cooked quinoa and a spinach/arugula mix. Top with chopped, cooked sweet potato chunks and sprinkle with toasted pecans.
2. Roughly mash the roasted chickpeas, spread them on bread toasts, top with fennel and drizzle with vinaigrette for a summery bruschetta.
3. Mix the fennel with shredded carrot and broccoli stems and soak in the lemon dressing overnight for a surprising take on coleslaw.