Quinoa is such an amazingly nutritious grain that The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared 2013 International Year of Quinoa. High in protein, 14% by mass, and a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, it is also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and calcium. Last, but not least, it is gluten-free.
Quinoa was first cultivated by and ancient Andean people between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. The Incas considered the crop sacred and the Inca emperor traditionally sowed the first seeds of the season with golden implements.
Of the three available varieties, black, red and white, I prefer the white for its mild flavor. All quinoa naturally is coated with bitter-tasting saponin, a protective for the plant against birds. Although most commercially available quinoa has been pre-rinsed to remove the saponin, I always recommend placing it in a fine-mesh sieve (the quinoa seeds are very small), and rinsing it under cold water until the water runs clear.
All that being said, I use quinoa frequently as a side dish in place of rice or potatoes. In summer I make a nutritious, colorful salad by combining cooked quinoa with grilled (or roasted) vegetables and lemon vinaigrette.
A word about grilling or roasting vegetables: The desired end result is vegetables that are soft and tender but caramelized on top. Root vegetables are great (carrots, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions) as are mushrooms, asparagus and sweet Bell peppers. I generally avoid green beans because they tend to dry out and toughen at high heats.
The great thing about this salad is that it can be made in advance, composed and plated to order, and the recipe provides extra cooked quinoa that can be refrigerated or frozen for later use as a side dish.
For the Grilled or Roasted Vegetables:
1 each red, green, orange or yellow Bell pepper, stemmed, cored, top and bottom sliced off, remainder cut into 4 equal pieces
8 ounces sliced brown or white mushrooms
3 medium onions, peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into quarters
8 ounces baby carrots, halved
4 ounces carrots and 4 ounces asparagus cut into 1-inch lengths
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, as needed
Grill vegetables on a gas or charcoal grill in a grill basket following directions for each type of machine. Or, preheat oven to 450°F. Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper. Toss to coat well each vegetable in turn in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place vegetables, spaced as evenly as possible, on the pans. Sprinkle lightly with salt and white pepper. Roast until vegetables are soft and caramelized on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
For the Quinoa:
2 cups white quinoa, rinsed in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 quart water
3 gluten-free vegetable bullion cubes
While vegetables are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a 3-quart pan. Add onion and sauté, stirring, until soft and lightly caramelized. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add rinsed quinoa, water, and bullion and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and simmer until all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat; cover pot with a double thickness of paper towels, replace heat and let cool to room temperature.
Cut grilled or roasted vegetables into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add 5 to 6 cups of the cook quinoa, tossing to mix well. Refrigerate, covered until ready to use. (Refrigerate, covered, or freeze any leftover quinoa and use, reheated in the microwave, later as a side dish.)
For the Lemon Vinaigrette:
Makes about 1 ½ cups
½ cup lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a medium bowl add lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, honey and salt. Whisk to dissolve salt. Add oil and whisk to emulsify. Refrigerate covered until ready to use. Whisk to emulsify before using.
- 8 cups baby arugula
- Lemon vinaigrette, as needed
- Quinoa-vegetable mixture, as needed
- Dried cranberries, as needed for garnish
- Sliced almonds, as needed for garnish
- For each salad, toss 1 generous cup of arugula with 1 to 2 tablespoons of Lemon Vinaigrette. Distribute evenly on a salad plate.
- Toss 1 generous cup of Quinoa-vegetable mixture with 1 to 2 tablespoons of Lemon Vinaigrette. Place on arugula. Garnish with about 1 tablespoon dried cranberries and 1 tablespoon of sliced almonds.
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