Last night we went to Table 34 for dinner–yes, again. What can I say? We like a reliable restaurant with consistently fresh and flavorful food. From April-October, I always order the same entree, the Seared Alaskan Halibut with Mixed Greens, Chili-Mint Vinaigrette, and Fresh Melon, which is only available when halibut is fresh (they even call me as soon as it is back on the menu–pathetic, I know.) While my main course selection is a no-brainer, I have a tough time choosing from my three favorite first courses. Am I in the mood for their house-smoked salmon? Mmmm, those figs wrapped in prosciutto were so good the last time I had them. On the other hand, I sure do enjoy the quinoa salad with roasted mixed vegetables.
Well, last night I went with the sweet fresh figs wrapped in salty prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic reduction, which were outstanding. The lady sitting behind me, however, ordered the quinoa, and it looked so delicious (I’m sure she appreciated having me stare at her food,) that I decided to make my own quinoa salad today, just to hold me over until our next visit.
I was actually quite surprised to hear the lady behind me ask the server "What’s kwi-no-ah?" Yes, I was eavesdropping too. I thought that most people were now familiar with quinoa, but I am obviously mistaken, so here is Quinoa 101: Quinoa, pronounced kee-nwah, is a high-protein, gluten-free grain, which looks like tiny flat discs. Considered a "super crop" by the United Nations, quinoa has a nutty flavor, and it works very well in pilafs or as a base for a salad. I like to use quinoa because it is light and fluffy, and it really absorbs dressings and flavors, such as the lime, olive oil, and cumin in this recipe. This salad is filling enough to be a meal in itself, or you can serve it as a side dish for grilled chicken or fish. Here are some extra tips for this southwestern style salad:
- Quinoa can be found in the organic or health foods section of your grocery store, or it can occasionally be found with the pasta and rice. Stores like Whole Foods usually carry it in the bulk bins.
- If you cannot find quinoa, then substitute couscous, bulgur (the base for tabbouleh), or any other grain.
- For variations on this salad, try adding some roasted corn kernels, minced jalapeno peppers, or mix in some crumbled feta or goat cheese. Toasted pepitas would also be good.
- This salad will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, tightly covered.
Southwestern Quinoa Salad
Zest of 1 large lime
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large bowl, whisk together the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
Rinse the quinoa in cold water and drain in a fine mesh sieve.
Cook the quinoa in a pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in the sieve and then set the sieve over the same pot with 1-inch of simmering water (water should not touch the bottom of the sieve.) Cover the quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, and then cover the sieve with a lid (don’t worry if the lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and then remove the lid. Let stand, still covered with the towel, 5 minutes.
Add the quinoa to the dressing and toss until the dressing is absorbed. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.