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Simple Sides: Strawberry Salad!

By Dennis Linden
Image of Strawberry Salad
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
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Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

Besides those infamous rain showers, April also brings the season’s first fresh California strawberries in volume large enough for retail promotions. Take advantage of this sale pricing to supervise your young kitchen helpers in the making of a deliciously fun salad that is substantial enough to be served as a nutritious standalone lunch. For the beginner cook, this seemingly simple recipe offers several culinary lessons in its three-part construction: cooking quinoa, making a salad dressing and then combining both with the rest of the raw ingredients that have been prepared and measured.

Quinoa, compared to rice, is extremely kid-friendly to cook. It takes half the time and very little kitchen experience to get a fluffy batch on the first try. Quinoa has a natural coating that can make it taste bitter or soapy when cooked. Supervise your kitchen assistants in rinsing the grain thoroughly with cool water for about 2 minutes; the quinoa should be rubbed and swished around with their hands during this rinse. It’s a great confidence builder for a young child to pour this small grain-like seed into a pot of water, cover, cook for about 15 minutes, then leave covered. Don’t peek off the flame for another 5 minutes and then finding triple the volume under the lid! There is no difference nutritionally between white, black or red quinoa – all three are a complete protein source that is also high in iron, magnesium and fiber--truly a super food! I chose red for this recipe just because it seemed like a natural match, visually, with the strawberries and in contrast to the vibrant green of the lettuces the color looks so attractive on the plate.

The key to the success of most salads is as much about the vinaigrette as the other salad ingredients. The simple mix for this recipe of balsamic, olive oil and agave definitely lends a flavor accent to this dish that would be completely different if, for instance, a creamy dairy-based dressing was used instead. Though certainly a perfect fit for this dish – there is just something undeniably delicious about the combo of balsamic and strawberries – your young aspiring chefs will no doubt file this wonderfully tasty trio separately for use in other recipes for years to come in their own kitchens. As far as making the dressing, even the youngest of sous chefs can shake-shake-shake the ingredients in a small jar!

Have a child who is a finicky eater when it comes to vegetables? What kid can resist a green salad sprinkled with a generous amount luscious strawberries and pine nuts? Not that it matters to a kid, but strawberries are a good source of vitamins C and B-9, manganese, potassium as well as small amounts of several other vitamins and minerals. The nutritional “strings” attached to this plate beyond the berries themselves is both the quinoa and lettuces that are the price of admission, so to speak, in order to enjoy those strawberries. Not a bad trade-off even the most fussy of eaters. This salad would pair deliciously with roasted chicken as a dinner salad as well as the perfect light and healthy luncheon main course!

Strawberries & Red Quinoa Salad
Yield: 4 servings
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1 package Melissa’s Red Quinoa (6 oz.)
2-1/3 cups water
½ cup olive oil (for vinaigrette)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar (for vinaigrette)
¼ cup Agave (for vinaigrette)
2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
6 cups Specialty Lettuce (Arugula, Baby Spinach or a favorite Spring Mix)
½ cup Pine nuts
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

What the kids can do:
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Cook the quinoa first so it can cool before using. In a saucepan bring water and quinoa to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat; let sit for five minute covers before fluffing with a fork. Set aside to cool.
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Use a small jar to combine olive oil, balsamic and agave. Shake well
Image of Strawberries
Chop the strawberries into smaller pieces
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Combine lettuce, strawberries, quinoa and pine nuts in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat, add pepper to taste.

Plating: Prepare individual servings, garnished with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
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