There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must feed a crowd. Whether it’s for a family barbeque, an office party, a kids’ birthday, the truth is we’ve all been there and we’ve all been stumped and totally intimidated.
I’ve worked in a few restaurants now that required big-batch cooking, so I’ve gotten used to dealing with impossibly large quantities of food. At first it seemed like a daunting task to make soup in a pot I could comfortably sit inside, but after a while I realized that it’s not that difficult, just a matter of practice (and a good recipe never hurts). The biggest challenge by far is getting enough flavour into the food, and for that I like to rely on herbs. Fresh herbs, no matter how much you add to a dish, are rarely offensive – they really just make most things more delicious, so fear not. They are also relatively inexpensive, especially at this time of year when they are in season.
This weekend I was invited to attend the Kinfolk dinner in Toronto. This was an event to bring together just a few of the talented and inspiring people that make this work-of-art magazine possible. It was such a pleasure to put faces to familiar names and actually meet all these internet pals in person. The day was spent outside the city at a gorgeous cottage on Georgian Bay, soaking up the sun, swimming, lounging, cooking together, and of course eating amazing food.
I was asked to contribute a tasty side that would feed at least twenty people. No probs! Herbs to the rescue.
Because of the insanely oppressive heat wave that has washed over Ontario this summer, I decided that a cool and refreshing salad was in order. And not knowing exactly what types of dietary needs the guests had, I thought that taking the gluten-free, nut-free, vegan route would be the most considerate.
I created a Minty Black Bean Salad full of fresh herbs and crispy veggies to energize and revitalize. The herbs in this salad are not garnish, but a major ingredient in the dish and should be added with abandon.
If you don’t have enough black beans, combine them with another legume, like navy or lima beans. The quinoa can be substituted for brown rice, millet, or even spelt or wheat berries. Pick any summer veg you’ve got hanging around too – green peas would be amazing and so would summer squash. The point here is to be flexible and plentiful! Feeding a crowd can be easy and tons of fun if you can harness the bold, flavour seeker inside yourself, and have the confidence to toss a salad in a mammoth roasting pan with your bare hands, ‘cause that’s how it’s done.
9 cups (1.3kg) dried black beans, soaked overnight (or 8 hours)
1 ½ cups (275g) quinoa, soaked overnight (or 8 hours)
2 large fennel bulbs
1 head radicchio
1 bunch radishes
2 bunches green onions
3 bunches mint
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
a few handfuls sprouts (I used sunflower)
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 3 limes
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp. fine grain sea salt
½ cup cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup (or liquid honey)
a couple pinches cayenne pepper
1. Place the black beans and quinoa is separate bowls and cover with plenty of water. Let soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
2. Drain and rinse both beans and quinoa well. Place beans in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer with the lid on for about 40 minutes. Add three tablespoons of salt and continue to cook until soft (but not mushy!) – another 10 minutes or so. Drain and rinse well. Let cool.
3. Place quinoa in a pot, add 2 ½ cups water and a teaspoons of salt. With the lid on, bring to the boil and reduce to simmer. Cook until tender, 15 minutes or so. Set aside with the lid off to let cool.
4. Make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to combine.
5. Prepare the vegetables. Begin by slicing the fennel bulb into very thin strips (a mandoline may help). Place fennel in a large serving vessel, pour a little of the dressing over, and toss to marinate (this also prevents browning). Add thinly sliced radish and green onions, toss to coat. Next add the cooled black beans and quinoa and pour the remaining dressing on top. Fold to combine. Let sit for 20-30 minutes to marinate.
6. Chop the herbs and radicchio, and add to the salad. Fold to incorporate. Season to taste. Sprinkle sprouts on top if desired, and serve to a hungry crowd.
Thanks to everyone who made this very special event possible. I had a total blast basking in the glory of summer surrounded by new friends around a table of abundance. We are so lucky. And now, so very full.
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For those of you who are in the Toronto area and want to reserve a space in the upcoming cooking classes, registration is now open! To learn more about the classes, please send an email to: [email protected]
Hope to see you there!