Quinoa Superfood Salad
Mike has a charmingly intrepid little six year old nephew. Jeez, is that guy funny. From the time he was four he could con a con like you’ve never seen before. My favorite is always watching Mike play tag with him. ”WAIT!! What’s THIS?” He says to Uncle Mike. ”Um, your shirt?” Wrong answer. “No, what’s ON my shirt!” Mike squints in closer. ”Uh….. It’s a bus.” He looks pleased, as if he was starting to think that Mike was a bit slow, until he finally got an answer right. “YES. A BUS. Look closer, c’mere…….<exasperated sigh> NO, you’re not close enough…………….TAG! YOU’RE IT!!!!!” Mike always stands there for a minute, looking a little bit confused, before muttering a couple of expletives and realizing that yes, in fact, he is IT.
The little man loves Godzilla, a bunch of strange animated monsters that I’ve never heard of, and Super Why….which sadly I have heard of. I’ve heard a LOT of. More than I would have ever wished, in fact. As a result, every time that people start talking about Super Foods, all I can think of is Super Why, and “I LOVE TO SPELL!!! S-P-E-L-L!!!” That song gets into your skull and that’s it. There’s no going back. For the rest of the day I’m humming along with Princess Presto, and thinking that as somebody with no children of her own, who only has cats for a reason, it’s entirely unfair for my brain to be hijacked by the voice of a tiny little midget in a sweet-pea ballgown.
But back to Super Foods.
Are there some foods that are just…super? Huh. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’m willing to hedge my bets, and hope that a fistful of blueberries will somehow make recompense for the fifth of whiskey that I drank the night before. After all, life is all about balance, right? RIGHT? Dang, those crickets are back again. But when you think about it, there are so many delicious and nutrient packed foods out there, just waiting to be eaten. And you know what? I like eating them. To be more exact, I like eating them all. There is nothing on one of those suspicious Super Foods lists that I would shake my head and shudder at – they all make their way onto our table on a regular basis.
You know, if only there was some Super Foods list out there that added “Massive amounts of cheese” and “vodka” somewhere down the line, do you even know how Super Fed I would be? The Super Powers would be shooting through my veins. I could be a Super Hero, with Super Human Appetites as my claim to fame (“Oh, there goes Super Hero Tina. After she eats villains, her Super digestive system converts them into ingots of gold.”) . Sigh. But I guess there’s no use mulling on what might have been…..
Oh, one last thing that I feel compelled to say: I love this salad. I know, I love a lot of things. But I LOVE this salad. Maybe, possibly (but don’t quote me on this) even more than french fries dipped in chocolate soft serve. Unless it’s a choice of one or the other. And then…well….FINE, quinoa wins – but don’t tell that guy behind the counter, it’ll hurt his feelings and I’ll never get a V-neck-discount again!
Quinoa Superfood Salad
- 2 cups quinoa
- 4 cups water
- 2/3 cup goji berries *
- 19 oz can soy beans
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/4 large red onion
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1 heaping tbsp orange zest
- 1.5 lemons, juice only
- 1/2 tsp hot red chili powder **
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large bunch parsley, (about 2 cups finely chopped)
- salt to taste
* Goji berries are also called wolfberries, and they’re cultivated mostly in China and the Far East. The medicinal properties of Goji berries are highly speculated upon, and they’ve recently started to be revered in the same Super Group as flax seeds, soy and acai. Whether or not there is substance to these claims is not for me to decide, but I can tell you that Goji berries have a slightly bittersweet taste that is reminiscent of dried cranberry…just a bit firmer. If you can’t find Goji berries at your bulk foods or naturals shop, dried cranberries would be a find substitute.
** I used a Pakistani red chili powder, but chipotle chili powder would also be delicious. Just don’t use a blended chili powder which is actually a spice blend meant for making chili. Oh, and if you aren’t a fan of spicy food, have no fear – the hot chili powder adds mostly color with a bit of flavor and zing. If you did want it spicier you could use a 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper instead.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Rinse the quinoa under several changes of cold water, swirling it around with your hands until the water runs clear.
Place the 2 cups of quinoa and 4 cups of water into a medium sized pot. Salt the water, but not as much as if you were making pasta because the water will not be drained off – all that salt will absorb into the grain. Put the pot over medium high heat until it comes up to a boil.
As soon as the pot boils, add the Goji berries (and give it a stir), put a tight fitting lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low, close to minimum. Cooking quinoa is just like cooking rice, and now what you’re doing is effectively steaming it. Let the pot cook away on minimum heat for 20 minutes, and whatever you do, DON’T lift the lid! I know, I know. The temptation is there, and now that I’ve said it even *I* want to go lifting off the lid, but as soon as that steam is released you’ve just set yourself up for some mediocre results.
Spread the walnuts out on an ungreased baking sheet. Please pardon the condition of my baking sheets, which look like they’ve seen been through the fires of hell and barely lived to tell the tale. I consider buying new baking sheets now and then, but then convince myself that these ones are ‘seasoned’. And yes, I know that you don’t ‘season’ non-stick bakeware. But look at these jokers, I hardly think that they were non-stick to begin with.
Tuck the walnuts into the center of your hot oven for 3-5 minutes, then give them a shake and a stir to see how the toasting is coming along. If necessary, put them back for another few minutes until the walnut pieces are fragrant and browned in certain areas.
So the quinoa is cooking away, the walnuts are toasting (or have toasted), and you still have another 10 minutes to kill before the grains have sprouted. Well, why not make the dressing? I’m all about the multi-task.
Mince 1 very large or 2 small cloves of garlic into a fine paste. Or, if you’re lazy like me, use a rasp or a garlic press to make short work of the cloves. Wash your orange thoroughly (even organic oranges are often covered in a thin layer of waxiness) and then zest off slightly less than half the orange peel, which is going to yield about 1 heaping tablespoon full of zest.
Add the red chili powder and salt. How much salt you use will depend on your own personal taste, but I added about 1 tsp of fine ground sea salt. Squeeze in the juice of one and a half lemons, being careful not to drop in the pips. Pips, of course, is a nice way of saying “extremely bitter seeds which are a heinously unpalatable surprise when they end up in your mouth.” Just sayin’.
Whisk the dressing mixture together, and drizzle in the olive oil while whisking continuously until it’s combined. That sounds like work, but it’s not. It’s just vinaigrette.
When the quinoa has been steaming for 20 minutes, take it off the heat and remove the lid. The Goji berries will have all gathered up on top, but that’s okay. Fluff the quinoa up with a fork, and mix in the berries at the same time. They will have rehydrated fully, and become rather fragile. Some will even have burst. That’s actually quite nice, because as you mix everything together in about 5 minutes the berries will sort of separate into strands of vermillion confetti stringing their way through the grains. Lovely.
But back to the salad, after you fluff the quinoa up just slightly, add the dressing and give it a good toss. When the quinoa is still warm it will absorb more of the dressing, so you get a bit more bang for your buck. Leave the pot uncovered for at least 5-10 minutes so that the quinoa can cool down before you add the rest of the ingredients.
Finely chop 1/4 of a fat red onion. I love red onion. I don’t know when this came about. I hated onions as I child, and I still shudder when I think of the time that my mother baked a pie – only to find out that it was onion pie. There are no words for how offensive that sounds to a child’s ears (ONION PIE!!). It’s like saying that you’re going to the zoo, but then going to the dentist and having to do math puzzles while your teeth get cleaned.
Chop the parsley finely, as if you were making tabouli.
Scoop the dressed quinoa out into a large mixing bowl.
Drain the can of soybeans and give them a good rinse before adding to the quinoa mixture.
Throw in the parsley like you’re throwing in the towel, because your salad is almost done.
Give everything a quick stir, taste, and season with more salt and pepper if you really feel a yen. Sprinkle on a handful of the toasted walnuts, and you’re ready to roll.
I like to spoon this salad out into large cups of iceberg lettuce leaves, which I invariably use as my utensil. The sweet, watery lettuce is both a perfect taste-pair, and my preferred way to scoop out this salad.
Unless you’re into forks. Forks are okay too….
You can’t help feeling virtuous when you eat this salad. There’s the bright sunshine tang of orange and lemon, mixed with peppery parsley, creamy beans and nutty quinoa…all topped with rich, buttery toasted walnuts. And it’s healthier than all get out. Tell me, seriously, if you wouldn’t smirk a little bit when you brought this for lunch, knowing that at least one of your coworkers will be eating lean cuisine. This is lean cuisine, just without the microwavable package.
And now we get back to Super Foods. No matter which list of Super Foods you reference, because (of course) they’re all just a helluva a little bit different, you’re bound to see at least 3 of these ingredients popping out. Whether is the walnuts for the omega 3, quinoa for the fiber, protein and iron, parsley for the chlorophyll and antioxidant properties, soy because….it’s soy, the list just goes on.
I’m hardly a wheat-grass drinking hippie, but what I will say for Quinoa Superfood Salad is:
- my god, does it ever make a good protein and fiber packed lunch for work.
- Yum yum yum yum yum.
- I don’t feel ashamed after eating it, unlike yesterday’s deep fried lunch which shall remain nameless.
- cheap, cheerful, and so full of flavor. Yes, please. One more bite.
Throughout the writing of this article that G.D. song has been in my head. And the pain is transferrable! Really, take note – Mike was humming the chorus about an hour ago. No kidding. Listening to the clip below may be risky, and I can guarantee that you won’t thank me that you did, but….but live on the edge, just a little. After all, it’s a kid’s cartoon.
How bad can it be??
(Look into her eyes as you answer that question)