The Cheap-Ass Gourmet: Dr Smiter’s Super-Keen Quinoa Salad

My friend the Elf and I email back and forth pretty much every day, and every so often I drive her mad by casually mentioning what I’ll be having for lunch.

Mmmmm. Purty.

I eat almost everything, with the exception of the obvious gross things involving hooves, snouts or anuses, and (oddly enough) canned pears. Canned pears are vile, like bleached uteruses infused with grit. Do not get me started. I once ate a chicken’s foot on a dare, but keep the canned pears away from me!

But I digress.

As I said, I eat a wide and varied diet (hopefully becoming no wider myself in the process) and one of my favourite things is quinoa salad.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) is a funny little round grain that, delightfully, is more closely related to beets and tumbleweeds than it is to other grains! That and the fact that it is strangely tasty makes it a star in my recipe book.

Depending on where you live, your grocery store may carry it — look in their “organics” section, or sometimes it’s lurking around the rice and dried beans. (No one really knows where to shelve a tumbleweed, I guess.)

Yes, I know they're not chips.
Do not make me come over there.

Failing that, you may have to visit a natural food store (formerly known as a health food store). This can be an annoying experience, partly due to the overwhelming fog of patchouli you’ll be breathing as you shop, but you can amuse yourself greatly by wandering up to one of the shelf clerks and asking where they keep the “qui-NO-ah” (or any mispronunciation that springs to mind).

Once you’ve got that in hand (and are recovering nicely from being beaten around the head by an outraged food-store clerk with a bag of organic carrots), you’re ready to go.

This takes about 35 minutes from start to digging in.

Altogether you will need:

  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 cup water plus 1/2 tsp salt (or 1 cup veg/chicken broth)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil and a little bit of sesame oil)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • freshly ground black pepper

Any or all of the following:

  • 1/4 cup chopped red or sweet white onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup or more of drained black beans (cooked or canned, obviously! :-))
  • halved grape tomatoes (I usually put these in as needed; they become soggy if you store the salad with them in it)
  • 1/2 cup diced red, yellow, orange, or green peppers, or a combo
  • any other colourful, pretty, crunchy veggie you care to add

What you do:

First, put the water or broth on to boil.

Now, quit your whinging, all of you! It's bath-time and there's an end to it.

Next, put the dry quinoa into a metal sieve and rinse it under running water. Really get your fingers in there and swish it around; quinoa has a bitter coating on it and this is the only way to remove it. If you don’t, your quinoa won’t cook properly. And that would suck.

When the water or broth is boiling, dump the quinoa into it. This is tricky since the grains want to stick to the sieve (and wouldn’t you, if you were being dangled over a pot of boiling liquid??). But they must accept their fate; help them to do that by scraping them out with a spoon.

Turn the heat down to low/medium and cover the pot. Set a timer for 20 minutes or so.

Now, wash any veggies that need washing, and chop or dice what needs to be chopped or diced. Pile it all in a biggish bowl. Chop the parsley in there while you’re at it (it’s easier to do this with scissors, by the way).

By the time you’re finished all that, the quinoa will be cooked, or near to it. It’s done when the liquid is absorbed and you have a pot of fluffy grains with weird little white rings around them. Seriously, look closely — it’s kind of neat. And they smell heavenly — kind of nutty.

Little white-ringed grains of tastiness.

Take the pot off the heat, uncover it, and leave the quinoa to cool for a few minutes — otherwise your pretty chopped veggies will get cooked as well. If you can spread it out in a bigger bowl or pot, do that — it will cool faster.

When it’s room temperature, or close to it, simply add the quinoa to the nice bowl of veggies you’ve prepared. Add the oil, vinegar, and black pepper and give everything a good stir.

This goes nicely with some good crusty multigrain bread and a bit of nice sharp cheese (old Cheddar is what I had on hand today).

Serves 4 to 6.

Total expenditure:

  • 50 cents to a dollar for the quinoa
  • maybe a buck for the veggies and parsley (much of which you might have on hand anyway)
  • a few pennies for the oil, vinegar, pepper etc.

So in other words, for about $1.60 (plus the cost of bread and cheese if you go that route), you get four to six servings of something that’s not only good for you, but whose spiky little relatives can be seen on TV!

Pssst... Wile E.! Order the quinoa!

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