Friday, April 13, 2012

Quinoa Salad

Here it is, everyone: my first recipe post. I'm really not much of a cook. I like food that's simple to prepare. Here's a recipe for one of my favorites, quinoa salad.

When I was in college, I studied abroad in France during the spring semester of my junior year. I lived with a host family, made up of three daughters who were in high school or college, a dad, and a mom. The mom was originally from Peru. Right after I got there in February, we started eating quinoa as a side dish during meals. For those who haven't tried it, quinoa is a grain that's a bit like a cross between rice and couscous. It's native to the Andes, like my host mom, and is super high in protein. As the weather warmed up that spring, my host mom began making "la salade," which featured quinoa, any veggies that were laying around, and a light dressing. This was one of my very favorite things that I ate while living with my host family, and once I was home and cooking for myself, I decided to replicate it. I'm not really a pasta-salad lover, so I think this is an awesome stand-in!

Here are my instructions for making quinoa salad:

First, prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. Typically, that means one cup of grains for two cups of water. Measure carefully, because unlike pasta, you won't be draining the quinoa at the end. Also, make sure to rinse the quinoa before you start. I know some brands advertise that you don't have to rinse it. I don't trust them. As long as you have a mesh strainer, it's super simple to rinse it and you wouldn't want to go to all this trouble and discover that the quinoa has a sour taste! In the photo above, you can see that we have a long way to go!

We're making progress, but it's still not quite done! Also, if you make this, use a bigger pan than I did. I think ideally you'd use a 1.5 quart, while I used only a 1 quart. If it's a little bigger pan, you can walk away while the water gets ready to boil. You can also use the cooking time to prepare your other ingredients.
Alright, the quinoa's done when it looks like this! I recommend that you check it by moving it away from the bottom of the pan. That's the motion I'm making with the spoon in each of these pictures. It's only in the last one that the space I'm creating isn't filled with water. That's how I know it's ready! Once it's done, you'll need it to cool off at least to room temperature. This salad is a great use for left over quinoa, if you have some. If not, you can make the quinoa the day before and chill it in the refrigerator. Or, you can do what I do: as soon as it's done, I transfer the quinoa to a different bowl and take it into the dining room where I leave it for 30 minutes or so, returning occasionally to stir it. If you choose a big enough bowl (like the size you'll need for your finished product), it should be pretty much cool after that half hour.

Next, get ready to chop your veggies! You can use pretty much whatever vegetables you like and have on hand. My host parents had a vegetable garden and were close with a network of farmers that gave them access to something kind of like a CSA, so they always had tons of vegetables at the house. We ate this salad with any kind of vegetable you can imagine.

I have a roster of favorite veggies for this dish, and since I don't often have veggies lying around (because spoilage is a serious problem when you live alone), I usually use half a cucumber, 2 carrots, and 2 roma tomatoes. I cut then into bit sized pieces - they don't need to be finely diced up for this recipe. I use raw vegetables because that's most convenient for me, but you could certainly cooked. I would recommend that they be no warmer than room temperature.

I also use non-vegetable ingredients. My favorite is hard boiled eggs. I had some Easter eggs left over. I also recommend the eggs that come pre-peeled as this simplifies the process if you're in a hurry! I also add walnuts and raisins for a little extra crunch and protein.

So, when all of the mix-ins are ready,  I dump them into the bowl with the quinoa. I like to put "wet" ingredients in first, but that might be irrational. The quinoa, veggies and others are in the bowl on the right. On the left, we have the sauce.

One of the reasons I prefer this to your standard pasta salad is that mayonnaise-type dressings make me a little nervous. My host father was required to strictly avoid mayo and other cream-based sauces for health reasons, so there was never any question of using something like that at their house. You can put whatever kind of dressing you want on this salad. I make one using a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. Once, I found a recipe on the internet that suggested 1/2 a cup of olive oil and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. For me, that was WAY too much lemon juice. I use probably more like 1/2 a cup of olive oil and 1 tbsp of lemon juice, though I'll admit that I don't measure anything and just look at the color when I mix it up in my little white bowl. While I think it's a good idea to mix up the sauce beforehand, if you need to adjust the ratios once it's already mixed with the salad, it's not a big deal. Just add whatever you need more of to the bowl, mix it up, and voila!
This is the finished product! Yum! You can serve this however you want. I often eat it as the main dish, accompanied by cooked broccoli, or salad, or cornbread. You can also serve it on the side of a piece of meat - I tried it with a piece of summer sausage recently which was delicious, though it likely cancelled out any health benefits. Enjoy!

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