Is January the longest month or is it just me? Here I am again with another healthy post — a salad built upon a supergrain: Quinoa (KEEN-wha).
Quinoa isn’t technically a grain. It’s a seed. So perhaps we should call it “superseed,” but that just sounds silly.
Taken from a page in my first cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook, this salad originally featured wild rice.
Ironically, wild rice is a seed, too, but you cook wild rice and quinoa like grains, so that’s why they’re lumped into the grain category, culinary speaking.
If you’re a farmer or a scientist, knowing the difference is crucial. If you’re a cook, like me, the nomenclature of “grains” vs. “seeds” is a minor diversion from the real point. What does it taste like?
Hang on, I’ll get to that.
Quinoa is a curious bugger. Each raw seed is just barely bigger than a pin-head.
If you, say, drop the bag on the floor, you’ll spend the next eternity trying to pick them all up.
Or so I’ve heard.
It’s simultaneously soft and crunchy. Nutty and a little earthy. And a wide-open foodstuff just begging for creativity.
And a toothpick. They like to stick in your teeth.
This ancient, South American staple has received a lot of press lately. (It’s because it’s January, right? We’re all scrambling to distance ourselves from decadent December.)
Or maybe this nutrient powerhouse is getting attention because it only takes 15 minutes to cook.
Just come back for a really tasty salad (and a preview of another way to use quinoa.)
Even though it only takes 15 minutes to cook, I should share a couple things. First, it needs a good rinse. It’s covered in a bitter resin that helps protected it from birds while growing. Most of the bitter compound is removed during processing for packaging, but a good rinse removes any last traces.
Since the seeds are so tiny, I use a chinois set over a bowl and give it four or five good rinses, changing the water in between. (A chinois is a very fine mesh strainer. A few layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter will work if your strainer is less fine.)
The shape of your pan matters, too. It’s best to use a pan that is wider than it is tall, otherwise the short 15 minute cooking time isn’t long enough to absorb all the water.
Cooking quinoa longer than 15 minutes makes it mushy. Some recipes call for cooking the quinoa in water for 1o minutes, then draining the water off and steaming it.
That’s too much trouble for me, especially since using a wide pan seems to do the trick.
After 15 minutes of cooking, turn off the heat and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then lift the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. (If you lean in close, you’ll get a nice steam facial, too. I always like double-duty tasks.)
This salad is best served room temperature, so toss the quinoa until it cools, or spread it out on a baking sheet to cool (if you don’t mind washing another pan). That will help dry it out, too.
I’ve chosen Cara Cara oranges because I like the pretty salmon color, and they’re in season now. I’m using both dried cranberries and dried, tart cherries.
You can substitute other dried fruits: apricot, dates, pineapple, or even raisins (golden, please…the others look like bugs to me. Of course, what am I worried about? This “grain” has a tail!)
Like most composed salads, this tastes better after it sits for an hour, giving the flavors a chance to get acquainted.
Remember that 1 cup of quinoa turns into 4 cups cooked. I use 3 cups for this salad, saving the last cup for another recipe that I’ll share later this week. And it won’t be quite as healthy as this one.
It’s almost February, after all.
Red Quinoa Salad with Oranges, Cranberries and Pecans
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup red quinoa (or white)
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium oranges
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried tart cherries
3 scallions, sliced thinly on bias
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
3 tablespoons of orange juice*
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Rinse the quinoa in several changes of water. Drain.
Place the quinoa in a wide saucepan and pour in 2 cups of water. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover pan. Cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, or to cool quickly, spread the quinoa on a baking sheet. (If quinoa seems too wet, line baking sheet with paper towels before spreading out to cool.)
While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the other ingredients.
Zest one of the oranges and set aside (for the vinaigrette). Peel the oranges and cut into segments (supreme). Save the orange pulp. Cut each segment in half and set aside.
Squeeze the orange pulps into a small saucepan. Place the dried fruit in the pan with the orange pulp juice and stir. Bring the juice just to a boil and then turn off the heat. Stir the fruit occasionally while the berries steep.
Whisk 3 tablespoons of orange juice with the reserved zest, and the vinegar. Whisk in the oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the cooled quinoa in a large bowl. Top with the reserved orange segments, steeped berries, scallions and pecans. Toss until combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
*The juice from the segmented oranges is enough to steep the dried fruit, but not enough to make the vinaigrette, so you’ll need an additional 3 tablespoons of OJ for the vinaigrette.