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Quinoa and Bean Salad

June 25, 2010

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I must admit that quinoa and I have been slow to warm to each other. It sounded like the ideal food for a mostly vegetarian diet: It’s a grain and also a complete protein. [Updated: It’s not a grain! It’s actually a seed. Ah, research…] And it’s fast and easy to cook. But for some reason, the love just wasn’t there. This quinoa and bean salad, though, might have tipped the scales strongly in favor of quinoa. And it’s a perfect summer meal, as it involves very little actual cooking! I can’t wait to eat this again.

The thing about quinoa that still has me holding back from total love is the rinsing process. Quinoa naturally has a coating of saponins, a chemical compound that causes some serious bitterness. It needs to be rinsed pretty well to get all the bitter bad off. I’ve heard that most quinoa sold in the US has been pre-rinsed, but that can’t be confirmed, and my package still says to rinse it. I’ve also heard that red quinoa doesn’t need to be rinsed, because it is naturally less bitter, but again, I can’t confirm that, and I’ve never tried it. And rinsing the quinoa is kind of a pain in the butt. The grains are small, so they slide through the holes in most of my strainers. And when they’re wet they have a tendency to stick to everything. But you know, I liked this salad so much that I will gladly go through the mildly painful process of quinoa rinsing to have it, so that’s telling you something.

The beans in this salad are from Trader Joe’s: a marinated bean salad mix. They were awesome, but if you (like me, most of the time) are Trader Joe’s-less, you can usually find a three bean salad mix in the canned bean section of most grocery stores, and you can use a little extra vinaigrette to substitute for the marinade in the Trader Joe’s beans.

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Quinoa and Bean Salad

  • 1/2 cup of quinoa
  • 1 cup of water or broth
  • 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
  • about 12 or 15 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
  • 1 14-ounce can salad beans
  • about 2 cups of arugula
  • a few basil leaves, chopped fine
  • about 1/3 cup crumbled feta
  • 1-2 tablespoons Simple Vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • salt to taste

Rinse the quinoa, either by soaking it in a pot of cool water for 15 minutes and straining it, or by running it under cool water in a strainer for a few minutes. I usually use the latter method and haven’t experienced any particular bitterness, so use your own judgement about how best to handle rinsing the quinoa.

Bring the water or broth to a boil, then stir in quinoa. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for about 15 minutes. You might want to season the water with a bit of salt. Once the quinoa has absorbed most of the water, it’s done.

While the quinoa cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped asparagus and a pinch of salt, and cook just until the asparagus is warm through, but still crispy, stirring often. When the quinoa is done, add it to the skillet with the asparagus. Stir in the beans, then remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the arugula, basil, feta, and vinaigrette. Stir just until the arugula begins to wilt, and then serve.

Simple Vinaigrette
This is my go-to vinaigrette recipe, and is infinitely malleable, so feel free to mix it up to your liking. If the beans are already flavored, you probably don’t need much vinaigrette. Add to the salad to your own taste.

  • about 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
  • about 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • a pinch of sugar
  • a slightly larger pinch of salt
  • about 3 tablespoons of olive oil

I just put all the ingredients in a small jar and shake it until the oil and vinegar emulsify. This makes enough dressing for three or four salads, so you should have some leftover. It’ll keep well for about a week in the refrigerator. Sometimes I use a different kind of vinegar, sometimes I add a teaspoon of plain yogurt to make it creamier. Sometimes I use honey, or leave out the sugar all together. And a few pinches of fresh herbs never hurt anything. Feel free to get creative: Last week I made a dressing with orange muscat vinegar and a pinch of cumin, and it was terrific.

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This salad was my big kitchen announcement (to myself) that summer is here, and it was glorious. I suspect I’ll be enjoying more quinoa all summer long.

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