Toasted Quinoa Salad with Cucumbers, Parsley and Feta in a Lemon Vinaigrette
By Heidi Allison
This protein-packed, gluten-free vegetarian salad is a simple dish to prepare— you can get it on the table in 15 minutes, and it works equally well as a one-dish main or back-up supporting side. The foundation of this recipe is quinoa, a seed that is cooked and eaten like a grain. Quinoa is a great alternative carb for those eliminating wheat, barley, rye or oats from their diet—i.e. anyone that is sensitive to gluten.
Unlike other plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own. Twice the protein content of rice, this Bolivian seed is classified as a “whole grain” food, and is a good source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, folate and vitamin B1, and, two important flavonoids – quercetin and kaempferols – molecules linked to having anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-viral effects. This South American import packs a nutritional punch, and is touted as a low-glycemic “superfood” in the culinary world.
There are over 120 varieties of quinoa, and mixing up different cultivars in a recipe creates a richer flavor profile and more complex texture to the finished dish. Red and black colored quinoas have a nuttier taste and maintain a better shape after cooking, while white and yellow varieties are mild and soft.
In this recipe, the quinoa is toasted twice to increase its nutty taste. Start with a brand that pre-soaks and toasts its product, which enhances taste and nutrient absorption, then lightly toast the quinoa again before adding the water during the cooking process. Heady amounts of chopped, flat-leaf parsley impart a vibrant green color and mineral bottom note to the finished dish, while the sweet, thin-skinned and seedless Persian and hothouse English cucumbers lend a cool, refreshing taste and texture. In this dish, go for the creamier, richer French or Bulgarian fetas over a drier, sharper Greek feta. Dressed with a simple, fresh lemon vinaigrette and topped with sweet, thin-skinned grape tomatoes, this dish reads as a well-balanced, hearty vegetarian meal.
1 cup tricolor Bolivian pre-rinsed, toasted quinoa
2 cups filtered water
1 large bunch organic flat-leaf parsley, chopped; about 2 cups
2 Persian cucumbers, 1/4-inch dice, about 1 cup
1 /2 hothouse (English) cucumber, 1/4-inch dice; about 1 cup
1 /3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Juice of 2 organic lemons (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 tsp. Kosher flake salt
3 Tbs. organic California olive oil
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
7 oz. crumbled Feta cheese, (French or Bulgarian preferred)
Place quinoa in a 2-quart pot and toast on medium heat till fragrant—about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of filtered water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow quinoa to finish cooking in residual heat for another 10 minutes. Look for the white “tail” that unfolds when it is fully cooked. Fluff with a fork and place cooked quinoa into a large mixing bowl.
Pour juice of 1 lemon over hot quinoa and fluff with fork, then allow to cool to room temperature. Add parsley, cucumbers and toss to combine. Sprinkle remainder of lemon juice, salt and olive oil over quinoa salad and toss again. Top with feta and sliced tomatoes and serve. Serves 2-4.
(Keeps for several days in the refrigerator— freshen it up with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.)