Friday, September 14, 2012


This is my new favorite quinoa salad and it isn’t even really a quinoa salad. The original Cooking Light recipe called for couscous, which I’m no particular fan of; it’s really just tiny pasta, and as you know, I already have enough pasta recipes to last a lifetime, so if I’m going to eat a grain-like salad I want it to be made with actual whole grains (or, in quinoa’s case, seeds). I became obsessed with adapting it for quinoa, even though I wasn’t sure whether boiling quinoa in orange juice and spices would work (with couscous, of course, you just soak it) or just result in a sticky, bitter mess. I’m pleased to report that it works just fine, infusing the quinoa with tons of flavor along the way.

Also new to me was poaching chicken; I usually have some cooked chicken in the freezer left over from making chicken broth, but this long, hot summer hasn’t exactly been conducive to keeping boiling pots on the stove for hours, so I was without. I’d tried poaching chicken a few times early in my cooking career and it always turned out dry and bland, but Just Bento set me straight. It turns out that the secret to perfectly moist poached chicken is the same as the secret to perfect hard-boiled eggs: bring to a boil, then remove from heat, cover, and let sit in the hot water until cooked. (The other secret is plenty of salt, so that essentially you’re brining the chicken.) Magical!

This salad has everything you could want (from a salad, at least). It has textural contrasts: the chewy quinoa, the crisp cucumber and onion, the crunchy almonds, and the tender chicken. It has flavor contrasts: the sweet-tart cranberries and citrus, the warm spices, the fresh green cucumber and cilantro, the meaty chicken, the sharp onion, the salty mustard, the nutty quinoa and, well, nuts. It’s packed with protein from the chicken, quinoa, and almonds, making it a satisfying dinner or workday lunch. It has fruit, nuts, vegetables, meat, and starch, and although it doesn’t need any more help in the deliciousness department, if you want to round out the food groups you can add a little crumbled feta as well (I wouldn’t bother buying feta for this purpose, but since I had a little leftover chunk in the fridge that I needed to get rid of, I tried it and it certainly wasn’t a bad addition). I especially love how well it bridges the gap between summer and fall. As I’ve mentioned, September in Southern California tends to make me cranky because the rest of the country is moving on to autumnal foods while we’re still sweating through our hottest weather of the year. With the orange, cranberry, cinnamon, and mustard, this salad wouldn’t be out of place at Thanksgiving, yet it’s quick, cold, and refreshing enough for the most sweltering days. I love it so much that I’ve made it twice in three weeks. Even if you’re a quinoa skeptic, this is one you have to try.

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, divided (from 2–3 oranges)
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
¼ cup sliced almonds
1½ cups chopped, cooked chicken breast*
1 cup chopped cucumber
⅓ cup chopped red onion
¼–½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1–2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

*I used poached chicken, made as follows: Take about 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut them in half lengthwise so they’re less thick in the middle, and place in a heavy, shallow pan (one that has a tight-fitting lid, which you’ll need later). Add water just to barely cover and 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn chicken over, remove pan from heat, cover, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle. Remove from pan, let cool slightly, and dice. This will make a bit more than you need for this recipe, but it can be added to many other dishes (salads, tacos, pizza, etc.) and freezes well.

1. Combine quinoa, ¾ cup orange juice, water, ½ teaspoon salt, coriander, cinnamon, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cranberries. Cover and let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork. Transfer quinoa mixture to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.

2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds to pan; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool.

3. Whisk together remaining ¼ cup orange juice, ½ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, lime juice, and mustard. Gradually add oil to juice mixture, whisking constantly until emulsified.

4. Add almonds, chicken, cucumber, red onion, and cilantro to the bowl of cooled quinoa. Drizzle dressing over the tip and toss well to coat.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes (1 hour if you’re also poaching the chicken)
Leftover potential: Great.

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