After indulging over the holidays, try this revitalizing salad featuring quinoa and loaded with extra nutritional benefits. A member of the goosefoot family, quinoa is one of the oldest crops of the American continent and has been consumed for thousands of years; in the 21st century, it is a “superfood.” Quinoa is currently being studied by NASA as a food that can meet the nutritional needs of humans on long-term space missions.
A complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, it has 40 percent more lysine than milk, which is important for brain cell development. It may also help the body absorb calcium. Quinoa is high in potassium, iron, and B vitamins, and it is fiber rich, low in sodium, and gluten free.
The seed grains are coated with bitter-tasting saponin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that acts as a natural pest control, which makes the plant less attractive to hungry pests. Manufacturers remove most of the compound through polishing or washing. Check your brand’s package instructions to determine if it is no-rinse quinoa. White quinoa is commonly found in stores; red quinoa holds its shape better after cooking; and black quinoa tastes earthier and is a bit sweeter. These are also available in a tricolor blend.
Cooked like a cereal grain, quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Vary this recipe by including any of these ingredients: chickpeas, diced avocado, pomegranate seeds, white raisins or dried cranberries, toasted chopped pecans or toasted pine nuts, chopped olives or marinated artichoke hearts, or other chopped herbs such as cilantro, basil, or thyme.
1 cup red or black quinoa (rinse in a fine-mesh strainer, if desired)
1¾ cups water or vegetable broth
1 to 2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
½ hothouse cucumber, finely diced
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded, finely diced
4 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced (discard green ends)
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (rinsed, dried, stems trimmed off)
⅓ to ½ cup fresh mint leaves, minced, or fresh dill
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Crumbled feta cheese, as desired
Put quinoa into a medium, heavy saucepan with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer; cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook 15 minutes or until the quinoa absorbs the liquid and becomes translucent and tender. Remove from the heat; allow quinoa to sit uncovered 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then put quinoa into a large bowl to cool completely. Toss in tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and herbs. Whisk together remaining ingredients; taste to adjust flavor, if desired. Drizzle liquids over quinoa while tossing to combine. Add a little more lemon juice or red wine vinegar, to taste. Scoop onto a platter; top with feta. Refrigerate in a tightly covered container 2 to 3 days. Serves 6.
Quinoa recipes often call for 2 cups liquid to 1 cup grain. Add slightly less liquid if the grain is rinsed before cooking or if additional liquid is added to the cooked grain (such as vinaigrette).
Cooked quinoa can have a soapy or grassy taste for those with saponin sensitivities (also found in legumes, spinach, and beets). In that case, you can soak the quinoa in cool water at least 30 minutes, then rinse several times before cooking.