Have you ever had something at a restaurant and liked it so much that you wanted to meet the chef to ask the recipe? Well, I wish that to happen quite often, specially if I come across an unusual recipe or ingredient. So, I did get to meet a chef this summer while traveling in Corsica, France. You will soon meet the hero of this story–I mean the creator of this quinoa-melon-mint salad; but let me first introduce this amazing salad. A mouthful of this salad hits you with a number of scrumptious notes–a base of quinoa, fresh mint flavor, the pungent crunchiness of red radish balanced by the sweet, soft, pulpy water melon, and the heavenly dressing with sweet and sour notes, which I had hard time figuring out. But thankfully, I did! Here is how.
As I walked a few yards after having this delicious quinoa-melon-mint salad, I found Anthony (pic below), picking fresh mint from the restaurant’s herb garden. Yes, the mint was that fresh. I assumed him to be one of the kitchen staff and asked if he would be so kind to ask the chef for the recipe of the salad. Well, it was surreal experience when he pleasantly replied–in French and some English, of course–that he made that salad and would gladly share the recipe. I knew the ingredients or so I thought. I asked him about the dressing, which he replied in French that translated to something like balsamic vinegar reduction made with sugar, nut oil, and mint. We exchanged goodbyes. However, I was a little baffled as I did not see any deep amber (color) of balsamic vinegar in the salad. But that mystery was soon to be solved.
The picture of the salad above is the one I took at the restaurant of the Hotel, Ta Kladia, in Cargèse, Corsica. The handmade deep red color plate looked just as stunning as the salad. I could go on (and on) with the details of the herb garden and the view, but for now, let’s get started with making the salad.
You can take any type of quinoa, but white is the preferred choice if you would like the color of the melon and vegetables to pop. Also make sure, as you would for any other salad, that all the fresh ingredients are really, really fresh. Cucumber and red radish should have the signature crunch when you take a bite. Also make sure that mint, whether it comes from a grocery store or right out your garden (or that of a friend’s), is not wilted and is still aromatic.
The first step is to cook the quinoa to a perfection, which in this case means not too soggy. It is best to prepare quinoa a night ahead or at least 2-3 hours in advance for it to get cold before mixing with the melon, cucumber, red reddish, and a very special dressing.
And now it’s time to solve the mystery of the balsamic vinegar dressing that was not amber in color. It was easy to figure out. When I visited my local grocery store, I discovered a white variety of balsamic vinegar. Although it’s new to my TLC lexicon, it has become my favorite as it has a clean and smooth aftertaste compared to its dark-colored counterpart.
To make the reduction, simmer the vinegar with mint and maple syrup to add the sweet and sour notes to the salad. It is best to make the reduction ahead of time and refrigerate it before mixing with the salad.
To assemble the salad, chop the melon, cucumber, red radish, and mint. Season with salt and pepper. You can also add a teaspoon of olive oil, if not avoiding oil. To make it more substantial for a main meal, add a can of (drained and rinsed) garbanzo beans, great northern beans, or cannellini beans. Cover and leave at room temperature for 15 minutes for flavors to meld. Enjoy!
Quinoa-Melon-Mint Salad from Corsica
White balsamic Reduction
- 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar*
- 5 fresh mint leaves
- 1 tbsp maple syrup (can sub with honey)
- 1 cup (170g) white quinoa (dry, can sub with other variety of quinoa as well)
- 2 cups (473 mL) water
- 1/2 tsp (3g) salt (divided into two 1/4 tsp portions)
- 1 cup (140g) water melon (finely dices, about 1 big slice)
- 1 cup (133g) cucumber (finely diced, about 1/2 big-size cucumber)
- 1 cup (85g) red radishes (finely diced, about 4-5 small)
- 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves (finely chopped, about 12 leaves)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper (freshly ground)
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)
White balsamic reduction
- In a small pan, bring white balsamic vinegar to a gentle boil over medium-low heat.
- Add the fresh mint leaves and maple syrup. Let it simmer over low heat for about 7-10 minutes. To test, dip a small spoon in the mixture. When done, the mixture will coat the back of the spoon. If it is still too thin, let it simmer for a few more minutes. The total reduction should measure to 1/3 cup. Once done, cool it completely and store in the fridge for at least an hour before mixing with the salad. You can make this reduction ahead of time--at least a night before.
- Cook the quinoa at least 3-4 hours in advance for it to cool down completely. It is best to make it a night ahead and store in the refrigerator. To make the quinoa, rinse it thoroughly under running water for 40-60 seconds. Add it to a pot with two cups of water and cook over medium-high heat to bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook till all the water has evaporated. It takes about 15 minutes to cook 1 cup of quinoa. Please make sure not to overcook. Once done, fluff it with a fork.
- Before cutting the melon and other vegetables to add to the salad, make sure that you have cold quinoa and white balsamic reduction at hand. Small dice the melon, red raddishes, and cucumber and finely chop mint and season with salt and pepper. Mix well with the quinoa and white balsamic reduction.
- Cover the salad and let it sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to mingle. Enjoy!
- you can add one can of your choice of beans (rinsed and drained) to make it a main meal-garbanzo or cannellini beans are likely to work better.
- You can add 1/4 cup of raw or toasted nuts.