Spring Preview: Greek-Styled Toasted Quinoa Salad

salad5BThough it may not seem like it in some parts, the official beginning of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, is less than a week away. With three days in a row of around 77 degrees last weekend, followed by flowers popping all over the place, my thoughts are turning to warmer weather…even though ours is still a bit of the bi-polar vortex variety. Enter this light, colorful and refreshing quinoa salad.

First, I have a confession to make. I have not been overly fond of quinoa. I’ve tried it many times, but the mushy/slimy texture that I, and others, seem to achieve has made me, well…less than enthusiastic shall we say. But no more. I’ve found the solution to that textural malaise. Toasting is the trick. Not only does it add a wonderful nutty flavor to the grain, but it kind of seals it so that the integrity, or “tooth” stays intact after cooking. And with that one step, I have now become a quinoa fan.

Now this trick may not be news to some of you, but merely seeing the suggestion on a package of quinoa inspired me to try it, and to create this salad for a pot luck pottery class last night. My salad features some favorite ingredients—those components that make up a traditional Greek salad—combined with a light, lemon and oregano enhanced dressing to brighten all of the flavors. This makes for a delicious and healthy dish, fit for a vegetarian meal or as a wonderful side dish. It was a real hit with my fellow classmates and I loved it, too. I’ll be making this again and again as the weather warms, so here it is for you to enjoy. May it remind those of you still suffering through snow, ice and cold temps that Spring is truly on it’s way, so hang in there. Happy weekend!

Greek-Styled Toasted Quinoa Salad
Makes 8-10 servings

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups dry quinoa (I used organic Royal White)
3 cups water
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or quarters, depending on size
1 large (I used English) cucumber, peeled, seeded and small diced
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

For the dressing:
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 Tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Heat a large, deep sided skillet over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast it, shaking or stirring it frequently, for about 5 minutes or until it smells fragrant and is just beginning to show a little color. Be careful and don’t burn it. Add the 3 cups of water to the pot, bring the quinoa to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the quinoa to cook until the grains are translucent and the germ has spiraled out from each grain, about 15 minutes. At this point, most of the water will be absorbed and the grain will still have some tooth to it. Remove it from the heat, take the lid off, fluff it, and allow it to cool in the pan while you compose the remaining ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and olives. Add the cooled (it can still be warm, just not hot) quinoa to the bowl and gently stir it into the vegetables to combine. Add the feta and gently stir it in. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified and thickened. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss it to coat well. If you have time, cover and allow the flavors to blend (I put mine in the fridge), then serve cold or you can serve this at room temperature right after making it. It will keep well for a day or so in the fridge.

This beautiful ceramic bowl was made by my talented friend, Denise Tombro.

This beautiful ceramic bowl was made by my talented friend, Denise Tombro.

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36 thoughts on “Spring Preview: Greek-Styled Toasted Quinoa Salad

    • Yes, toasting the grain was new to me, too, but it makes a HUGE difference. I’ll never NOT toast my quinoa again, that’s for sure. I’m so glad you like the salad…I wish I’d made more of it now. 🙂

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  1. It is a beauty Betsy and toasting the grains is a lovely way to go. Did you know you could also toast barley and other grains? It really enhances the nutty flavour of the grain. I love quinoa but I have never found it mushy/slimy, ours is always nice and dry so perhaps you’ve been adding too much water to cook it? We just made a similar salad but using beluga lentils and I even commented that a little feta would have been perfect with it. I also love that you used two colours of tomatoes because it really brightens the salad up. And you just can’t have enough parsley, such a fresh flavour. The lentil salad I just made for lunch was based on the Lentils du Puys salad I’ve made on the blog and I would recommend this step for your salad too, to add the dressing to the quinoa immediately after you remove it form the heat so that the warm quinoa absorbed the flavour from the dressing, it really enhances the flavour. You’ve created a really inspirational salad Betsy and psychologically needed as Wednesday we got dumped on with about 7-10 inches of snow, it was brutal. Yesterday temperatures plummeted to 6°F with a wind chill that makes it feel like -16°F, so you know what I’m talking about. Fortunately today we have temperatures in the plus area, so we’re cautiously hopeful.

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  2. Yum! I love Greek-style things – especially pasta salads, green salads, all those types of things. Your quinoa version looks scrumptious! What a great idea 🙂

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    • Hi Sawsan, so good to hear from you! I think I’m addicted to toasted quinoa now, it made such a huge difference in taste and texture. Daily salad menu…I like the sound of that and may have to adopt that philosophy for myself, so thank YOU for that inpspiration!

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  3. I’m glad the weather is warming up for you. I love your pretty bowl that you’ve served the quinoa in. I actually love quinoa and when I cook it as a salad I tend to add the ingredients you’ve added – I think the strong flavours take the grain to a new level. This looks very yummy xx

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  4. Your friend is so talented, that pottery piece is just gorgeous! Back when I lived in Japan, I learned how to make pottery by hand wheel by an beautiful sensei that only spoke Japanese. I know how much love and time went into this piece. I am a huge fan of quinoa and with spring on the horizon it is time to lighten up with more salads. I think with all of the feta cheese and olives and Spanish influence that even my husband might like this one. Great post Betsy! Take care, BAM

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    • Thank you so kindly for your comments, BAM. My friend now lives in Italy where she teaches pottery, and she was my first teacher…we even shared a studio for a short time. She’s incredibly talented and in fact, this wasn’t one of her favorite pieces, but I adore it. I am a handbuilder exclusively when it comes to pottery, but appreciate the skill it takes to make something on a wheel. What a great experience that must have been living in Japan and soaking up all of that culture and technique! I’m so glad you like this salad. I think I’m going to resolve to try and eat a salad every day from Spring thru Summer. 🙂

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  5. This recipe is definitely a winner with all of those great flavors you have going on. Toasting is a great way to improve its texture. Do you rinse your well before hand? I’ve been told this helps with taste (eliminates it being bitter, not that you mentioned that). I usually soak it in a colander in a bowl filled with water and vigorously shake up my quinoa and then rinse thoroughly.

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    • Interesting, Geni. Your the second person that has asked me that, and yet I have never rinsed my quinoa, though I do rinse wild rice. I’ve never had any that was bitter, including this one, but good to know. I’m glad you like the flavors…they really are some of my favorites! 🙂

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  6. Oooh, I thought for a moment I couldn’t see any feta and was thinking that that would have been a crime against humanity (well, not that serious perhaps)… was quite relieved when I saw it in the second pic and confirmed it in the recipe. I’m sure it’s plenty visible, but my eyes are probably half-closed due to being so tired 😦

    Looks lovely Betsy! 🙂

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    • Oh yes, this definitely needed to have feta…just wouldn’t be right without it for sure! 🙂 I know what you mean about tired, though I don’t have a young child to manage/enjoy in addition to studying. Happy Monday, Charles!

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