I’ve been playing around with quinoa since before Passover to find some good recipes; since it’s a great source of non-meat protein, I figured this would be a prefect choice to bring over to lunch with my vegan friend “farmer Laura.” Like tofu or rice, quinoa tends to take on the flavor of its sauce, but I have sometimes been disappointed with quinoa if it isn’t well-dressed.
Actually, I have sometimes been disappointed with people if they aren’t well-dressed. And by this I mean not appropriately attired for the setting. Flip-flops in the lab or an office. White socks with black shoes. White at a wedding if you’re not the bride. A full-Windsor knot tie with a button-down collar. My classmate in the hospital did not appreciate when I shared this commentary with him.
But I digress.
Back to the quinoa. Because I was really happy to find not one, but two, quite well-attired quinoa salads for different moods. One spicy and sweet with the best that warmer weather has to offer. The other hailing from a warm climate, but more savory and using mainly pantry staples.
A few words about preparing quinoa. It is pretty versatile and most of the products I’ve seen sold in my neighborhood are pre-rinsed, obviating one preparation step for removing the bitter-tasting saponin covering. The easiest way I’ve found to get fluffy quinoa is to boil quinoa in salted water (1:2 ratio) for about 15 minutes in a covered pot, remove from the heat, fluff with a fork once the water is absorbed, and then allow the quinoa to fully cool in the covered pot. Only add the dressing and other ingredients to quinoa that has cooled to avoid a slimy mess.
Quinoa-Mango Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette
Adapted from Julie at Kitchenography’s Quinoa, Watercress and Mango Salad with Lime-Curry Vinaigrette. I eliminated the red pepper, doubled the mango, substituted cumin for curry, and made the dressing a bit sweeter, spicier, and saltier. The star here is the mango, but the dressing is pretty kicking as well.
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed (if not using pre-rinsed quinoa)
- 2 mangoes, diced
- 1 bunch watercress, stems removed (or 2 handfuls baby spinach in a pinch) – watercress has a bit more assertiveness to balance out the sweetness of the mango
- Juice of 1 lime (~3 tablespoons) – don’t forget to zest first
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 1/2 -2 t brown sugar or honey (my preference is sugar – demura sugar works well also)
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- Salt and pepper
- Lime zest for garnish
Put 1 C quinoa, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2 C water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.
While quinoa is cooking, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together (or just put in a small jar and shake) and set aside.
Note – I keep ginger in the freezer. It thaws quite quickly and is easy to grate on a little grater like the one that I bought in Chinatown several years ago (not sure which Northeastern city I was living in and which Chinatown was nearest) or with a Microplane.
When the quinoa has cooled, toss with enough dressing to moisten (about 1/2-2/3 the dressing). Add the watercress (or spinach) and mango, and toss, adding enough additional dressing to lightly coat. Taste for salt and pepper and add additional as appropriate.
Serve garnished with a sprinkle of lime zest and cayenne pepper for color and a kick.
NOTE: you can prepare the quinoa portion with dressing a day or two in advance – the mixture improves as the flavors sit) and then add mango and watercress at the last minute, splashing on some extra dressing. Additionally, leftover salad does equally well in the fridge for a day or two as watercress does not wilt much with this dressing (spinach holds up almost as well).
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Pantry Staples
Adapted from Lauren at East Village Kitchen. This is a very simple salad that mainly uses ingredients you have around your pantry, plus fresh basil (that I have on my windowsill). Despite what I have said in the past about sun-dried tomatoes, if you reconstitute them in hot water in the time it takes to cook the quinoa, they will be pretty good and the right consistency (but don’t let them soak for too long!) — I prefer this to the jarred, packed in oil variety.
- 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
- 3 T olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 C quinoa, rinsed if not using pre-rinsed
- 1/4 C white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1 lemon
- fresh basil
- salt and peppers to taste
Cut sun-dried tomatoes into strips with kitchen shears and cover with boiling water. Soak for 15-20 minutes while preparing quinoa (DO NOT SOAK FOR LONGER!). Drain water and allow reconstituted tomatoes to cool in ~1 T of olive oil.
Heat 1-2T olive oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute chopped onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt.
Add 1 C quinoa and 2 C water (or follow instructions on quinoa package) to pot containing translucent onions and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.
Once quinoa has cooled, add vinegar and about 2 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste).
Add sun-dried tomatoes plus the olive oil that they have been sitting in. The oil is now also infused with some of the tomato flavor.
Chifonnade a small handful of fresh basil (~1/2 C) over the top (again, kitchen shears are pretty handy here if you want to take a short-cut ) and mix with quinoa. As the basil gets crushed, its flavor releases and mixes with that of the concentrated tomatoes.
Add salt and pepper to taste. If too acidic, add a splash of olive oil. Like the other quinoa recipe, this one also improves with about a day in the fridge.