My recipe for Quinoa, Chickpea and Almond Salad pulls together many of my favorite warm Middle-Eastern flavors such as cumin, cinnamon and orange. A lovely salad for the mild winters in Dubai.
However, mild winters are not what I grew up. Growing up on the US East coast with its four distinct seasons, one thing was certain – my childhood winters were never mild! One of my favorite winter memories was the surprise of getting snow days off school. These invariably started the night before with earnest childhood prayers for so much snowfall that school would be forced to close the next day. In those days (before email and text messaging), the only way to relay the message was for class parents to call each other early in the morning before anyone would have set off for school. When I heard the phone ring, I knew what that meant! We would jump out of our pajamas, straight into snow clothes and out in the snow making snowmen. What could be better? Bliss for the kids, probably mixed emotions for the parents.
Now as a parent myself living in Dubai, I can see that while the kids here have many advantages, one of them is not the surprise of snowy days which shut down school. However, recently, they got something pretty close.
At the beginning of this week, we started hearing reports that a big thunder storm was set to hit the United Arab Emirates. There were even rumors (probably unfounded) that the military was on stand-by to deal with the chaotic aftermath. So we waited. And waited. But nothing much happened. Then on Thursday morning around 10am, parents were suddenly informed that the government had ordered all schools to be closed for the day due to the expected storm. This led to a mix of reactions on social media – teens tweeting about how thrilled they were to be off school and some parents grumbling about whether this was a teeny bit of an over-reaction on the part of the government. Especially as the sky looked quite blue and clear.
Now, I have been living in Dubai for 5 years, and I can say pretty confidently that it rains here maybe 2-3 times a year. It usually doesn’t last very long and is not all that heavy. But because the drainage system on the streets is not equipped to deal with rain (this is a desert, after all), the whole city can get surprisingly flooded by a small shower of rain which in other countries would barely warrant an umbrella. I can only imagine what a proper thunder storm might do to the roads – turn them into veritable rivers.
Everyone waited for the storm that day. I went into mini-anxiety mode, probably from my upbringing in the US where snow days were often accompanied by images on television of people stock-piling canned food from supermarkets. I got out my stash of candles and did a quick run to our local supermarket (I bought everything I needed, except I forgot the milk). By the end of the day, the worst we got was slightly grayish skies and some drizzle. Social media started buzzing with vindicated parents who felt that the whole drama was over-done. Perhaps. But weather is notoriously unpredictable. Instead of joining the voices of people complaining about the government over-reacting, I was actually pleased that they had the foresight to try and keep the roads clear in case the thunder storm hit. I’m sure all parents would much rather have an unexpected afternoon with their child safely at home than be stuck on a flooded road for hours.
As for the kids, I’m glad they got to experience something similar to a surprise snow day off school. Although, I guess it’s not quite the same. After all, you can’t make snowmen out of raindrops…
P.S. In case you were wondering, the thunder storm did arrive, but it was in the middle of the night.
QUINOA, CHICKPEA and ALMOND SALAD with ORANGE-CUMIN VINAIGRETTE
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp orange juice (freshly squeeze, or a good quality brand)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8-1/4 tsp red chilli powder (to taste)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup dried quinoa (or 3 cups cooked quinoa, ready to eat)
1 tin chickpeas (approximately 400g tin, or 240g drained)
2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1 cup of cilantro / coriander leaves (washed, dried and roughly chopped)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (preferably with skin)
10 prunes (or dried apricots), chopped into bite-size pieces
1 large zucchini / courgette
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt + 1 tsp sea salt
1 dried bay leaf
- Zucchini: Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Wash and dry your zucchini. Cut it lengthwise into quarters, and then slice it horizontally so that you end up with many small triangles of zucchini. Place the zucchini in an oven dish, drizzle 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp sea salt on top of the zucchini. Toss to cover the zucchini in the olive oil and salt. Place in a hot oven. Roast for 15 minutes, toss, and roast for another 10-15 minutes until nicely cooked. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Quinoa: If you do not have 3 cups of cooked ready-to-eat quinoa, you can make it in the following way. Take 1 cup of dried quinoa and place it in a colander. You need to wash the quinoa, and it has a tendency to float, so the easiest way to wash it is by filling a large bowl with water, and placing the colander (with the quinoa in the colander) into the bowl of water. Rinse the quinoa in the colander with your hand, and then lift the colander. Discard the water. Rinse 2 more times. Put the drained quinoa into a small saucepan. Boil about 2 cups of water in your kettle. When the water has come to the boil, measure out 1&1/2 cups boiled water and pour it into the saucepan with the quinoa. Add 1 tsp of sea salt and 2 dried bay leaf to water and quinoa. Cover the saucepan and allow to come to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, and allow the quinoa to simmer for 15 minutes (covered). Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit (covered) for 5 minutes. Fluff it with a fork and spread it on a platter to cool.
- Dressing: Make the salad dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients together and mixing well (I recommend shaking them up in a clean jar with a lid). Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Chickpeas: Drain and rinse 1 tin of chickpeas. Set aside.
- Spinach: Wash and dry 2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves. If they are quite small, leave them whole. Otherwise roughly chop them. Set aside.
- Cilantro: Wash, dry and roughly chop 1 cup of cilantro / coriander leaves. Set aside.
- Prunes: Chop 10 prunes into bite-size pieces. Alternatively, you can use dried apricots. Set aside.
- Almonds: Measure out 1/2 a cup of sliced almonds. Set aside.
- When the quinoa has cooled down to room temperature, put it in a large bowl and add all the dressing. Toss well.
- Add the cooled zucchini, chickpeas, baby spinach, cilantro, prunes and almonds. Fold until well mixed.
- Serve straight away, or refrigerate for up to 48 hours.