Quinoa, pronounced "keen-wah", is a grain that is very rich in amino acids or protein. It has a fluffy, creamy and slightly crunchy texture, and when it is cooked it has a bit of a nutty flavor. Quinoa is a nutritional goldmine, rich in manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorous. It is said to be beneficial for people who suffer from migraines, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. It will also clean your house, mow your lawn, and make you look like a supermodel (not really--just checking to see if you are paying attention amidst all of this educational stuff). Quinoa can be used interchangeably in recipes with grains such as rice, couscous, or in the case of this recipe, bulgur wheat.
Tabbouleh is a traditional Middle Eastern dish made of the above-mentioned bulgur wheat, herbs such as parsley and mint, and spices. Tabbouleh is often served as an appetizer, a salad, or as part of a mezze, the Middle Eastern version of tapas. The recipe is thought to have originated in Lebanese cuisine, but it is now enjoyed all over the world and is very common in vegetarian diets. I love to make tabbouleh because it is a versatile dish, open to creative variation. I have added shredded chicken to tabbouleh to make a more substantial meal, and I have also made it into a sweeter dish, with golden raisins, cinnamon, and orange juice. You can't help but feel healthy eating it as tabbouleh is about as close to "spa cuisine" as you can get.
For this recipe, I combined the two above "lessons for today" to make one light and nutritionally abundant dish, Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad. Here are a few tips for preparing this twist on tabbouleh:
- Look for quinoa in health food stores, or in the health foods section of your grocery store. Stores like Whole Foods will have a quinoa bin in their bulk foods section.
- If you cannot find quinoa, simply substitute bulgur wheat. This is what tabbouleh is traditionally made from, and it should be easier to find than quinoa. Look for it in the organic or health foods section of your grocery store, or you might even find it in the general rice and grains section.
- Before simmering the quinoa, rinse it under cold water in a fine mesh sieve or strainer.
- If you prefer to peel and seed the cucumber prior to chopping, feel free to do so. I like the extra texture and color that the dark green peel provides, and it is an easier process if you can omit the extra steps. If you are concerned about a waxy coating, use an English cucumber. These are wrapped in plastic so they do not need the waxed coating and they have much smaller seeds.
- I prefer to use roma or plum tomatoes for this salad, but vine-ripened, heirloom, and even the sweet small grape tomatoes would work well too. If using a smaller grape tomato, just quarter each tomato as opposed to chopping.
Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped seeded tomato
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
Lettuce or arugula leaves (optional)
Whisk oil, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and garlic together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring the 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and cool.
Add the cucumber, tomato, mint, and the remaining cup of chopped parsley to the quinoa. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Serve the quinoa atop lettuce or arugula leaves, if desired.