The best part about the limited variety of produce found at my neighborhood Safeway is that it requires me to make the occasional trip to Whole Foods. (I say occasional because no matter how narrow a mission I set out on, my grocery bill is anything but lean by the time I walk out the door).
On this particular visit, the first display that caught my attention was a stunning pyramid of blood oranges. California grown and still very much in season, their soft orange skin streaked with red blush appeared like little globes of sunlight beckoning me to take them home. Some neighboring golden beets, freshly pulled from the spring soil, decided to hitch a ride and jumped into my basket too.
I wanted to combine the goodness of these distinctive spring jewels with the earthy, nutty flavor of ancient grains and surround them in a bed of market fresh Brussels sprouts.
The combination of greens and grains is an idea that we’ve been coming across quite a bit lately in California cuisine. We had a memorable shredded kale and quinoa salad on new year’s eve at this establishment that incorporated sunflower seeds, grapes, manchego and parmesan tossed in a lip-smacking lemon vinaigrette. I can still taste it!
Visually stunning, blood oranges derive their distinctive color from the presence of anthocyanins — a pigment that operates as an antioxidant in the body. The flesh of the orange can vary anywhere from soft pink to brilliant red (crimson) to deep purple depending on the pigment permeation.
That means that the color of the vinaigrette will also vary depending on the pigment saturation of the oranges used. You could make this vinaigrette a hundred times and get a slightly different color each time.
The taste also varies but generally I find blood oranges slightly less sweet and mildly tarter than conventional oranges or mandarins.
If you can’t get your hands on blood oranges for the vinaigrette, simply use whatever orange variety is available to you. It will be every bit as delicious and if you prefer something on the sour side, just add a little fresh lemon juice to the orange to achieve desired tartness.
Same idea with the vegetables. I’ve used Brussels sprouts and golden beets in this recipe, both local and seasonal, but you can source from anything available to you (even if you’re still digging out from under the snow!) — pick what appears freshest because that will also be what tastes best and carries the greatest nutrients.
Substitute different nuts and seeds and add cheese if you wish – goat, crumpled feta and harder varieties like grated pecorino and parmesan would all be delicious here. Play around with different combinations and see what works best for you.
You can plate this salad however you wish – in layers on a singular serving tray, segmented in a large bowl, or chopped up into smaller pieces and mixed together.
Full of texture and delicious flavor, this satisfying spring salad is bursting with color and nourishing properties.
- For the Salad:
- 1 cup cooked whole grains of choice (I used a combination of millet, buckwheat and white & red quinoa sold together as a 'super grains' organic blend)
- 12 or so Brussels Sprouts (more if they are small), shaved with mandoline or knife (see Notes)
- 4 roasted golden beets, sliced or chopped
- 1 avocado, sliced or chopped
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- For the Blood Orange Vinaigrette:
- ½ cup blood orange juice (from 2 blood oranges) + more orange segments for the salad as desired
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp honey (or pure maple syrup for vegan version)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- good pinch of salt
- See prepping Notes below.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked (and cooled) grains and shaved Brussels sprouts, add half the vinaigrette (giving it a final whisk beforehand) and mix gently but thoroughly to combine.
- If you are plating on a singular tray, add sliced beats and sliced avocado and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Top with pine nuts and garnish with orange segments.
- If you are combining all the chopped elements together, add roasted chopped beets and avocado, drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and mix gently to integrate with grains and Brussels sprouts, taking care not to mash. Add toasted pine nuts and serve in individual bowls or plates, garnished with orange segments, as desired.
Prepping the Beets: You can roast your beets in advance and store in fridge until you are ready to assemble salad. There are many different roasting methods, one of the simplest: trim stems off beets, brush beets with a little olive oil and wrap each beet in aluminum foil. Place beets on a cooking tray in 375 F oven for 45 - 60 minutes or until cooked through. The beets will be fragrant and hot. Be sure to allow them to cool before carefully unwrapping. Once unwrapped, the skin will slide off easily and you can then slice thin (with mandoline or knife) or chop into small pieces as desired.
Prepping the Grains: The grains can also be prepped in advance. Cook the grains according to package directions, generally 2:1 water to grain ratio. I use my rice cooker ~ works like a charm. If you are buying your grains unpackaged you can use this Guide to Cooking Grains.
Prepping the Pine Nuts: The pine nuts can be toasted ahead of time. I simply use a small dry skillet set to the lowest heat and toast the nuts -- be sure to keep a close eye on them to avoid burning. It only takes a minute or two.
Prepping the Brussels Sprouts: If you have a mandoline, you will make short work of the sprouts (I have a basic hand-held model that I bought a few years ago ~ very easy to use and works well). The biggest issue with mandolines is safety (very sharp blade). If you don't have a mandoline simply use a knife and slice the sprouts as thin as possible holding the end as you go. Discard ends.
Prepping the Blood Orange Vinaigrette: simply whisk all vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl or container with fitted lid. I recommend making the dressing at least two hours in advance (ideally overnight) to allow the flavors to permeate. Be sure to taste the dressing and make any adjustments before using.