Friday, March 18, 2011


Grains like quinoa are such a great way to down a big bowl of vegetably goodness without feeling like you’re making a meal entirely out of leaves. (Yes, I still have a slight aversion to main-dish green salads. I REQUIRE CARBS, PEOPLE.) This recipe, which I spied at Tasty Kitchen, is essentially a quinoa-based version of the Southwestern salad I first enjoyed (despite its leafiness) late last summer: cilantro-lime dressing, black beans, corn, peppers, green onions…yum. To make it even more like that salad, I had to add avocado, because I am a spoiled Californian who can get them at the farmers’ market. I also added some feta, because I had some sitting in the fridge that needed to be used, and also because feta has been a delicious addition to every other quinoa salad I’ve made so far (I imagine cotija would also work well, perhaps better). I also think cherry tomatoes might not be a bad extra, either. Oh, and although the recipe called for fresh corn, I used frozen, because even spoiled Californians can’t get good corn in March, which is as it should be. The frozen tasted just fine.

The original recipe calls for red quinoa, which makes the dish extra-pretty, but Trader Joe’s was inexplicably out of it this week, so the beige quinoa had to do (as far as I can discern, they taste exactly the same anyway). I ditched the recipe’s annoyingly convoluted directions for preparing the quinoa, which involved cheesecloth and boiling plus steaming, and just used the back-of-box directions as I usually do. I’m sure the more complicated method results in some barely perceptible improvement in texture, but I tried that once for this corn-mint quinoa recipe and didn’t find it worth the hassle. In addition, I reduced the quinoa amount from 1½ cups to 1 cup, just because every other recipe I’ve made uses 1 cup and it always seems to result in plenty of quinoa. In retrospect, this was the right call; there seemed to be just the correct balance between the quinoa and the other ingredients as it was, and any more quinoa would risk being too much. We still got five servings of salad out of it; the first night, we had small-medium portions with chicken quesadillas on the side (mostly because I feared that A wouldn’t like the salad, being a bean hater; rather surprisingly, however, he praised it), but the three more generous leftover servings made satisfying vegetarian main dishes in their own right. Zippy, colorful, and packed with vitamins and protein, this is definitely a keeper.

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup red quinoa (normal quinoa works just fine, too)
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup corn kernels, fresh (cut from about 2 large cooked ears) or frozen (defrosted)
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1 whole jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped green onion
1 ripe avocado, diced (optional)
4 ounces feta or cotija cheese, diced or crumbled (optional)

1. Rinse the quinoa well under cold water, then add to a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy and chewy, about 15–20 minutes.

2. Empty cooked quinoa into a large bowl and allow it to cool almost to room temperature, stirring occasionally. (This will help the vinaigrette coat everything without the quinoa absorbing too much of it.)

3. While quinoa is cooling, make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt, minced garlic, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, and cumin and add oil in a stream, whisking. Add black pepper, stir, and set aside.

4. When the quinoa has cooled, add the beans, corn, peppers, cilantro, green onions, and avocado and/or cheese if desired, and toss gently with the dressing.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. (If using avocado, prevent it from browning by tossing it in a little lime juice before adding it to the salad.)

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