As much as I love the crispness of raw summer produce – sugar snap peas, green beans, tender zucchini – sometimes you just want it to be cooked a little bit. However, heating up a pot of water to blanch green beans or using a skillet to sauté the zucchini would make our already-hot apartment even hotter and, after having blanched a few sets of vegetables last night (in addition to boiling pasta), I was not in the mood to have sweat dripping off my forehead and my shirt soaked through again tonight. And that’s where the microwave comes in.
As Mark Bittman pointed out a few years ago, the microwave is really great at steaming vegetables. Green beans get tenderized in a flash after a few minutes in a covered bowl, and zucchini gets buttery after it’s been tossed with a touch of oil and briefly steamed. Now, I know that there are many people who 1) don’t have a microwave oven because they think it’s useless or 2) think microwaving food will somehow mess up your health, but I don’t believe either of those, so I use my microwave oven freely. And when it’s 100 degrees inside your apartment, the microwave oven is your best friend for quickly and effectively tenderizing vegetables for an effortless summer vegetable and grain salad. Yes, I had to use the stove to cook the couscous, but it was just that one ingredient, and not two more sets of vegetables as well as another pot and pan.
The dressing was inspired by our honeymoon in Turkey – a mixture of yogurt (homemade), mint (which was from last week’s share), parsley (from the Union Square Greenmarket – I love that parsley, because it is so dry, lasts for so long), kirmizi biber (roasted red chili flakes – they’re a little smoky, sweet, and definitely spicy), garlic, and lemon juice. The tang and brightness of the dressing was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the other market vegetables.
This method would work perfectly for pretty much any grain and any combination of summer vegetables and herbs. Don’t have mint? Use just parsley in the dressing. No sugar snaps? Green beans work just fine (which is in fact how I made this dish last week). This recipe is very flexible and is in fact more of a template for tossing together what you’ve got on hand.
Quinoa with Green Summer Vegetables and Herbed Yogurt Dressing
1 ½ cups quinoa
½ pound sugar snap peas
1 pound summer squash or zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 handful mint leaves
1 large handful parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic
¾ cup yogurt
1 teaspoon kirmizi biber (or regular red chili flakes)
Juice of ¼ lemon
Cook the quinoa according to package directions. When it is done, spread it out on a large sheet tray so that it can cool quickly.
Wash and trim the sugar snap peas and cut them into 1” lengths. Transfer them to a large microwave-safe bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of water and a sprinkle of salt and mix to distribute. Cover the bowl with a plate and microwave on high power for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Uncover, transfer to a smaller bowl, and set aside.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise, then cut into ¼” thick slices. Transfer the squash to a large microwave-safe bowl. Toss with a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil, then microwave on high power for 4-6 minutes, stirring halfway through. (This depends on how tender the squash is – ours was really fresh so it only needed 4 minutes.) Drain the squash and set aside to cool.
Add the mint, parsley, and garlic to the bowl of a mini chopper and pulse to mince, or mince finely by hand. Add the yogurt, kirmizi biber, and lemon juice, and mix to combine. Add salt to taste.
When the quinoa is cool, add the sugar snap peas, squash, and yogurt dressing and mix to combine. Add more salt if necessary.