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.

Betsy’s Famous Black Bean Mango Salad

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

Why famous? Well, it started many years ago when I was making pottery and taking classes on a regular basis at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center.

I specialized in handbuilding and loved to Raku-fire pots outdoors. At the end of each quarter, we would have a party, appropriately named “pot luck raku.” Each person brought a dish to share. We’d set the food out on long tables outdoors next to the raku kilns and eat, drink wine, fire pots, pull them out of the kilns at red hot temperature and throw them in the sawdust to absorb the smoke! There were some amazing dishes—both from a food and a pottery perspective—that showed up at these events, and I have such fond memories of these times. It was at one of these parties that I first tasted the dish Fesenjan, the Persian chicken and pomegranate stew, as well as some other worldly delights. Continue reading