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.

Picnic Perfection: Couscous Salad

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

As a complement to my last post, I’d like to share one of my favorite salads that is just great for picnics, a cookout or a weeknight vegetarian dish. I first saw this couscous salad by chance on an episode of Paula Deen’s cooking show on the Food Network, and intrigued, I adapted it a bit to my taste…then a bit more. It’s one that comes together very quickly and lends itself to adaptation, so you may wish to try your own versions as well. Couscous is so versatile, which is one of the things I really love about it! Continue reading

And now for something completely different…Kale Calzones with Spicy Marinara

It tastes as good as it looks, and is yet another dish you can't feel guilty about eating and enjoying!

Our CSA boxes have been pretty repetitive of late, but they happen to be featuring some of my favorite ingredients to work with and in particular, broccoli and kale. I made some of my Penne with Fresh Broccoli and Garlic last week—always a quick and tasty dish—but wanted to figure out something different to do with the kale other than my usual sauteed side dish or a main pasta dish. After casting about for a while looking for ideas from other recipes, I decided on calzones, and this dish was born: Kale Calzones with Spicy Marinara. Continue reading