Thursday, March 5, 2015

From "Absolutely NOT" to "YES, Please!" Dueling Quinoa Salads

The struggle is real.  I'm not even going to go into painful detail about healthy foods that leave you feeling like you've been punished for all of the edible joys in life.  With Kale being the trendy "health food" of the moment, my husband was determined that he could make beautiful kale chips that would taste as wonderful as we had heard.  NOPE.  They tasted like dirt, air, salt, and garlic.  We made grilled cheese sandwiches and had a good laugh.  A co-worker of his was certain that they were better than we were letting on, so he delivered them to her office the next day. Legend has it that those kale chips were deemed to be better than some of the grocery bought ones, but still really bad and might have been relocated to a trash can outside the office building. Pretty happy that no one got arrested for dropping a bag of dried green leafy substance.
Getting on with it...QUINOA is an amazing superfood.  The health benefits are terrific, but the texture is difficult to deal with.  I have given up my quest to learn to love salmon (it's just not my thing) and turned to Quinoa for my next healthy food.  I gave up on it long ago, after having it in a few dishes where it came across a little too gritty and sand like.  My original thought was to combine it with rice or couscous to tame the texture, but when cooking a smallish package of tricolored quinoa that made a giant portion, it would have been way too much.  So, I divided the giant pot of quinoa in half and made 2 different salads, one Greek inspired and the other Thai.  Shocker - they were both good, and as the weather warms, I will definitely make both again to not only have as a side dish, but also to keep in the fridge as a great healthy snack.
I am not going to give specific amounts, as this is about what makes you happy and adding more of what you love and less of what you don't.  Let me know if you find any additions that you like or if you find these a great way to learn to love quinoa too!

FIRST - Cook Quinoa according to package directions and let cool in the pot with lid on (this helps make it nice and fluffy)
Instead of using water, consider using broth, or simply add a bouillon cube to the water as it boils.
I added 1 Tablespoon of butter to the pot as I added the quinoa to the boiling water stirring until it melts.  This adds a little bit of fat, but not enough to make it terribly unhealthy and adds to the richness of flavor.  Be sure to taste it, you might find that with the added butter and broth/boullion the taste is pretty good!
SECOND - After the quinoa has cooled for a bit (it doesn't need to be cold, just warm or room temp) spread it in a baking dish and spray with canola or olive oil and place under a preheated broiler for a few minutes.  Remove from oven and stir, then place back under the broiler just until it is lightly browned and has a drier feel to it.  This keeps the salad from being a bit "gummy".

Diced Vegetables and Feta
1 Tomato, Diced
1/2 Cucumber, Seeded & Diced
Sliced Kalamata Olives
Scallions (Green Onions) Thinly Sliced or
Red Onion, Diced
Red or Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced (Optional)
Pepperocini, Diced (Optional)
Feta Cheese, Crumbled

Dressing - 1 to 1 Ratio of White Balsamic or White Wine Vinegar and Olive Oil. Optionally add Black Pepper, Oregano, Garlic, Lemon Zest, or whatever "Greek" seasonings make you happy. 

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until well mixed.  Serve at room temp or chilled. 

Greek Quinoa Salad

Diced Vegetable Mix for Thai Salad
1 Carrot, Diced
1/2 Cucumber, Seeded & Diced
1 Handful Red Cabbage, finely chopped
Scallions (Green Onions) Thinly Sliced
Edamame (Optional)
Bean Sprouts (Optional)
Red or Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced (Optional)
Fresh Cilantro, roughly chopped

Dressing - 3 Tablespoons Peanut Butter (Creamy),  2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce or Tamari, 1 tsp sugar or honey, 3 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil.  Mix all ingredients together until blended.  OR, take the SHORTCUT and use bottled peanut dressing or marinade - if they are too thick, add a bit of Rice Wine Vinegar to get the desired consistency.   I think it would be good with a bottled ginger dressing as well!

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until well mixed, sprinkle cilantro on top or mix in as last ingredient.  Serve at room temp or chilled.  
Thai Quinoa Salad
I used bottled peanut dressing and really liked the result and how fast it was.  Take a leap of faith and try these quinoa salads - even if you have not liked quinoa in the past, you just might be surprised...I was.  Don't get me wrong, I am all about balance, and made Sausage and Cheese muffins (recipe coming soon) for my husband's birthday!  But that is special, and I look forward to the warmer months and keeping these salads on hand for a fresh healthy treat!  Make them for someone you love and consider it a new adventure to explore together.  Enjoy!

Our dinner of "dueling quinoa salads" to taste test the new recipes,
accompanied by fish with lemon and dill.
We loved both recipes and can't wait to make them again!

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