Sunday, September 12, 2010

Red Quinoa Salad

Quinoa's a funky little grain. It looks like a bunch of tiny round balls. With tails. Little curly-cue tails. It tastes a little bit nutty, a little bit grainy. Originally from South America, this weird little grain is an ancient source of high-quality, unusually complete protein (at 12-18%, with a high concentration of amino acids compared to wheat or rice). It's also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron - and is gluten-free. But the best part about eating quinoa is that it goes really well with feta cheese. Mmmmm...cheeeeeese....

The trick with quinoa is that, in order to make it palatable for human consumption, it has to be processed to remove the bitter saponin coating. You really want to soak or rinse the grain well before you cook it, to remove any lingering bits of the coating that weren't removed in industrial processing (especially as the soapy nature of saponin makes it act as a mild laxative! Ulp.) Rinsing can be on the annoying side, as quinoa when it's wet is kinda sticky and gets everywhere. I recommend using a strainer with tiny holes, or maybe some cheesecloth. I can report that uncooked quinoa grains spilled on a hot stove smell alarmingly like burnt microwave popcorn. If any of my .83 readers have suggestions or tips for how to rinse quinoa without it getting everywhere, I'd love to hear them!

This salad is adapted from a recipe on Tara Austen Weaver's award-winning blog Tea & Cookies. I dumped in perhaps a bit more feta cheese than is really required, and I added diced cucumber to the mix (mostly because I was short a few that's an interesting euphemism!). I also reduced the olive oil and upped the red wine vinegar, because 1/3 cup seemed a bit extravagant, especially with the cheese I' If you find your salad a bit too dry, however, add another drizzle in.

1 c. organic red quinoa
2 c. water
6 radishes chopped in a medium dice - about 1.5 cups
Half a small red onion, cut into small dice
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters (or halved, depending on their size)
1/2 cucumber, diced
3/4 c. crumbled goat cheese (or the majority of the container, which somehow miraculously slips from your fingers and dumps the contents into the salad bowl. Oops!)
2 T. capers, chopped coarsely
2 T. chopped fresh oregano (I used parsley, which was really good)

For the dressing
1 T. Dijon mustard (I used stone-ground, 'cause that's what I had on hand)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
3 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa well in whatever manner you choose.

Bring the water to a boil and pour the quinoa in. Reduce heat to just-above-simmer and cook until all water has been absorbed and the quinoa is done - about 15-20 minutes. You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker.

Let the quinoa cool and then toss with all the salad ingredients except the cheese.

To make the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together until smooth. Drizzle the olive oil in, whisking constantly, until the mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Alternately, dump all the dressing ingredients into one of those Hidden Valley cruet thingies or into a container with a lid that you trust will stay tight on, and shake the hell out of it 'til it's all blended nicely.

Pour dressing over salad, toss to mix, adjust seasonings. Fold cheese in carefully at the end. Or dump in a bunch unceremoniously. You know - by "accident."

Serves 6-8 at about 3/4 cup apiece.
175 calories, 7.8g fat, 19 grams carbohydrates, 6.9 grams protein.

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