Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is native to the Andean region of South America, and was considered a sacred crop by the Incas. In modern times, it’s often praised for it’s high protein content. Quinoa, unlike other grains, contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein on it’s own. It’s also rich in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Cooking quinoa is a similar process to cooking rice, but it needs to be soaked first to insure that all of the saponins (a coating that gives off a soap-like flavor) have been loosened. Packaged quinoa – the kind that comes in box mixes with seasonings, for example, usually has the coating removed prior to packaging. I get my quinoa in bulk from my co-op so I don’t know for sure and I always soak it just to be safe. Taste-wise, quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and a texture similar to rice. This salad is a nice alternative to pasta salad and perfect for a light lunch or as a side dish.
Quinoa Salad (vegan)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 small cucumber, diced
3-4 green onions, white and light green parts only, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
2 large handfuls spinach (about 2 cups) chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of lemon or lime juice (about 2 teaspoons)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1. Soak the quinoa in a bowl covered with cool water for 15-30 minutes. Drain the quinoa in a wire strainer or fine colander, and rinse well. Place the quinoa in a small pot with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to steam (leave the lid on!) for 5-10 more minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and let cool. At this point I usually get impatient and spread the cooked quinoa on a large plate or baking sheet, so it cools more quickly.
2. Add all the chopped veggies and the remaining ingredients to a medium-sized bowl. Toss them together and let the veggies marinate while the quinoa is cooling.
3. Once the quinoa is mostly cooled (it doesn’t have to be cold), add it to the bowl and mix it all up. At this point you can taste it and adjust your seasonings, but remember that the flavors will intensify as the salad sits. I like to keep the oil down for myself, but you could add more – up to 1/4 cup, if the vinegar is too overpowering for you, or start with less vinegar and adjust to your taste. Refrigerate before serving.