The Power of the Pantry (Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dried Fruit)

All I can say is, Thank god for my pantry.

Today was the first session with a new group for my Parents Need to Eat, TooSM cooking class. As always, I planned to start with a discussion of The New Mom’s Pantry, after which we’d cook that night’s dinner. Since it’s a pantry class the recipe is, of course, largely pantry-based; last time it was Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, but I thought I’d go with something more summery today. I chose Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken.

I made sure I had all the ingredients, in sufficient quantity for multiple batches. I cleaned and organized my kitchen. I pulled out knives and cutting boards. I pulled out spatulas and plastic bowls for the babies to play with. I was ready. Or so I thought.

The moms arrived and we got settled. I asked them about their cooking history and what they hoped to get out of the class. We talked about the New Mom’s Pantry, and how it’s different from a regular-person’s pantry. I was getting a really good vibe from my little group.

When we were done talking, it was time to start cooking. And that’s when I realized I’d forgotten the biggest possible thing: I forgot to double-check the student questionnaires before selecting the recipe. One of my students is allergic to both soy and peanuts. That’s right, I chose a recipe that could’ve killed her. A, if you’re reading, I’M SORRY I’M SORRY I’M SORRY. (I feel like I can’t say that enough.)

She was so sweet about it, too. Instead of taking one look at the assembled deadly ingredients, which were on the table before class even started, and making a stink—as I would’ve done—A waited until we were about to cook, and calmly said, “You know, I’m not going to take this one home with me. It’s full of things I’m allergic to.”

I was MORTIFIED. I wanted to shrink into a tiny pea-sized woman and hide under the table. But I couldn’t; I still had to teach the class, and there was no way I was sending A home without tonight’s dinner. I quickly rifled through the recipe packet I’d distributed, silently praying that there was something else we could make. There it was, several pages in: Quinoa Salad. It was simple, it was filled with interesting flavors and textures, and it was made up entirely of ingredients I always have on hand. (Well, except for the cheese, but the moms were gracious and agreed that they could easily pick up a hunk on the way home.) My well-stocked pantry saved my sorry ass, yet again.

I didn’t have enough of either regular or black quinoa for everyone, but the two packages combined for exactly the right amount. It made the dish exceptionally pretty—I wish I’d had my camera handy so you could see it.

Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dried Fruit
Adapted from The San Francisco Chronicle
Serves 4

If you make this salad ahead, you may need to add more salt just before serving, but keep in mind that the feta will also add salt.

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 red bell pepper, diced small
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 teaspoon honey (substitute 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar if you’ll be serving it to babies, as one student planned to)
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup walnut oil or olive oil
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese or fresh goat cheese

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add quinoa and boil until it is translucent but still has a bit of crunch, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread out on a baking sheet to cool.

Combine the quinoa with the chickpeas, fruit, green onions and walnuts in a large serving bowl.

Put the honey, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil into a small container that seals tightly, and shake. Add the dressing to the salad and toss with a little more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately or chill, covered tightly, for several hours or overnight. Top with the cheese right before serving.