Monday, May 17, 2010

Quinoa summertime salad

This is a protein powerhouse of a salad that tastes best room temperature or cold. It's pretty much summer anyway, and it creeps up on you every year, so it's best to be ready with the stuff that is easy to cook without too much heat. Especially great for lunches and perfect along with anything you grilled for dinner. And the best takes advantage of any odds-and-ends from the farmers markets. Or maybe the best part is the quinoa...oddly enough, this teeny little grain is a close relative of spinach and has very complete amino acids. It's unusually good for you! The More You Know!Quinoa needs to be rinsed a couple times in a few changes of water to swish off this natural bitter coating on the little seeds. See, quinoa know how delicious and healthy they are, so they used their powers of evolution to develop a nasty tasting resin (called saponin) to repel insects and birds. I am just a font of quinoa wisdom today, aren't I? Just rinse it well before cooking with it.I cooked it in chicken stock but you should use whatever you like. Veggie stock or water would be fine (you could even stir a little miso in the water for a heartier flavor but then cut back on the rest of the salt used). Or, depending on what the other flavors ended up being, half orange juice and half water. I used 2 cups of quinoa to 4 cups stock to make a ton of this. Bring liquid to a boil together with the quinoa, then simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. In fact this is a good time to point of the flexibility of this salad--just cook up the quinoa into fluffiness, and meanwhile chop up a pile of delicious add-ins. I had some big chives from the neighbors yard, some small chives from my yard, 1/4 cup minced parsley and about 1/2 a cucumber, diced into mini chunks.Also, about 1/2 cup diced queso fresco (you could use ricotta salata instead, or feta), plus 1/4 cup goat cheese, 1/4 cup minced roasted red pepper, and a small clove minced garlic. Zucchini or yellow crookneck, once it's in season will be nice all diced up in there. Garbanzo beans. Tiny chunks of tomato, minced green beans, maybe fresh corn too. You want at least 2 cups of extra stuff to stir in there.By now your quinoa should have cooked up pretty well--the grains will be translucent and soft when done. Fluff it up and admire.Stir in the juice and zest from one lemon plus a pinch of salt. Add a hefty 1 tablespoon butter (you can use olive oil instead, if you want a different flavor). It's good to add a little flavor while the grains are all hot and absorby.I dumped it into a big mixing bowl at this point--it was easier to stir and it cooled down faster this way. You don't want it to be hot when you stir in all the other ingredients. Also you can keep it fluffy and not let it cool all into a sticky lump (it shouldn't do this anyway because you added some butter/olive oil, but you never know).After it's cooled down somewhat, stir in all that great stuff you chopped up already.
I just thought of more things you could add in...chopped nuts, or tiny chunks of pressed tofu, or chopped up hardboiled eggs, or tuna...anyway.
Here's the dressing I made: 3 teaspoons capers, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablepsoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard, plus a pinch salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. I just put everything in a glass jar with a tight lid and shake it up really well to mix. Pour it over the grains and veggies and mix well.
You can leave it at room temperature or stick it in the fridge for later. Taste it for salt before serving--sometimes cool foods can taste flat. I want to eat some version of this everyday, all summer long.

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