Food for (tropical) thoughts
Ok. After some hectic, crazy weeks a lady only can dream about being port side under a sunny sky besides a paradisiac beach; creative tropical cocktail on one hand and an actual printed good book on the other. It’s that or, at least, trying to recreate such thought through food.
Since the hectic weeks have been my reality but the possibility of the tropical escape is not (and no, not because I live in a tropical island means that I’m hanging in the beach everyday), I decided to make this super quick and easy stuffed papaya recipe that can take you very near to the beach, no trip required.
Very healthy and easy, this is an idea you can bring to your table with any vegetables or leftovers you have in hand. Chicken, cod, black beans, corn, black olives, onions, pistachios, feta cheese, quinoa, rice… the possibilities are endless, letting you make a quick meal with whatever you have in hand.
I kept it simple with quinoa, chickpeas and asparagus. Given that I was going to be using few simple ingredients I decided to sauté the chickpeas and asparagus to give them a bite and add some dimension to their flavors. This 3-minute step really makes a difference in the dish. For the cherry on top I drizzled a goooood amount of balsamic vinegar. Because it’s not for cooking or to use it in a dressing, I have to highly recommend that you use a nice, good quality Modena balsamic vinegar, the kind that is sweet and thick. When the acidic sweetness of the vinegar mixes with the sweetness of the papaya in your mouth it’s pure heaven.
Go ahead and have your own tropical feast in your own kitchen!
1. You may cook the quinoa with vegetable or chicken stock for added flavor.
2. Use ripe papayas so their flesh is soft and mixes well with the salad.
3. Use a good balsamic vinegar to enhance the sweetness of the papaya and balance the savory flavor of the other components.
Papaya stuffed with quinoa, chickpeas and asparagus salad
6 to 8 papaya halves
Total and active time – 20 minutes
Cooked quinoa, preferably cooked in salted water or vegetable or chicken stock – 2 cups
Chickpeas, rinsed and drained – ½ cup
Asparagus, chopped – ½ cup (about 7 to 8 spears)
Olive oil – 2 TBSP + 1 TBSP
Fine sea salt – ½ Tsp, divided plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper – ¼ Tsp plus more to taste
White vinegar – 3 TBSP
Creamy Dijon mustard - 1 Tsp
Red chili flakes – a pinch
Avocado, cubed – ½ cup, about half an avocado
Baby arugula or baby greens – 1 cup
Silvered sliced almonds – ½ cup
Ripe Papayas, halved and deseeded – 3 to 4
Balsamic vinegar – ½ TBSP or more to taste
Cook the quinoa following the packet instructions, salting the water and using vegetable or chicken stock if you have some in hand. Set aside to let it dry and cool down. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.
In a large skillet heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and asparagus pieces and season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Sauté for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in with the quinoa.
In a small bowl combine well the white vinegar and the mustard with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, some extra black pepper and the red chili flakes. Pour over the quinoa and mix everything well. Toss in the avocado, greens and almonds and mix everything together to distribute the dressing. Sprinkle a dash of extra salt and pepper if needed.
Fill each of the papayas with the quinoa salad. Drizzle over a good amount of balsamic vinegar, about 1 tablespoon per papaya. Arrange some extra greens over for decoration and serve immediately.