Cooking Spree: Warm Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Quinoa. 

KEEN-wah. KEEN-wah.  KEEN-wah.

I just like saying it.

As of late, I am obsessed with quinoa, that mysterious little grain. I was first introduced years ago at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods salad bar, when I took a sample of the quinoa salad. I think it was curried, with raisins and almonds, which is not always my favorite. But I fell in love with the odd, chewy, nuttiness of quinoa, how it sort of pops when you eat it and how each kernel has that weird little string of a tail. Then I learned it was actually good for you, as a protein-packed whole grain. Gotta get your whole grains in, people. I had just never cooked it myself.

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to find quinoa at Trader Joe’s, though I think it’s universally available in average supermarkets. Just check the rice aisle. I wasted most of that first box on two botched attempts at preparing it, but after some Internet research, I think I’m on the right track. You should rinse the quinoa but then don’t add too much water or cook it too long. You’ll have mush, trust me. Delicious mush, but mush just the same. (I still ate it.) This time I used 1 cup of dry quinoa to just under 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, cooked like rice — bring to boil, cover and reduce to low — for 10-15 minutes. Near perfection.

My initial inspiration was an amazing warm farro salad I had a few weeks ago at 300 East. Someday I’ll write another ode to how much I love farro, though it seems harder to find … and maybe more expensive. After that dish, I replicated a quinoa version with roasted butternut squash and mushrooms, wilted arugula and goat cheese, and I ate it every day — sometimes twice a day — for a week.

Now that I’m home, back in the swing of life and needing to feed myself again, I thought I’d try a new flavor combo. This is a Mediterranean-ish quinoa, and you can just throw all the ingredients in a bowl together and toss. Serve it warm or cold. It’s heaven, and it’s hearty enough for dinner but also light enough not to overwhelm on these scorching hot summer days we’ve been having.

If you’re a quinoa aficionado, let me know how you prepare it. I’m always looking for ideas!

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Warm Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

For the salad:

1 – 2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and extra liquid squeezed out
1 10-oz jar sun-dried tomatoes, in oil
big handful of fresh spinach, about 3/4 cup, or more/less to your taste
2 green onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup of fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup of fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Spread the grape tomatoes on a sheet pan and toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes until they are soft and the skins are a bit scorched. Set aside to cool.

For the quinoa:

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt (or to your taste)

Rinse the quinoa in cold water. Add the water/broth, salt and quinoa to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, on the stove for another 5 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the quinoa — it should absorb all of the water but still be a bit chewy, or “al dente” as they say with pasta.

Remove the lid and toss in the spinach and green onion. Stir quickly, trying to retain the heat and steam, then recover and let the pot sit until the spinach is partially wilted.

Open the sun-dried tomatoes, but retain the oil in the jar. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes and the artichoke hearts into bite-sized pieces. Finely chop the basil and parsley. (You could add some chopped/grated/roasted garlic, chopped kalamata olives or grated lemon zest at this point too.)

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, spinach and onions with the artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, herbs and feta. Add about 1/2 the jar of sundried tomato oil, or as much as you like just to moisten the salad. If you’d rather, you can add regular olive oil instead. Mix well and serve while warm, at room temperature or chilled, however you prefer.

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