TASTE FOOD: Quinoa does heavy lifting in salad

CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood
CAPTION 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

Don't mistake this salad for tabbouleh.

While it certainly bears a resemblance, it's not the traditional Levantine bulgur salad tumbled with tomatoes, onions and fresh green herbs. Instead, this salad veers south for inspiration and replaces the bulgur with quinoa.

Quinoa is a South American crop which produces small seeds that are nutrient-rich in calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. These little seeds also add a hefty amount of protein and fiber for a balanced and satisfying meal and provide a gluten-free alternative to grains such as bulgur.

Quinoa may be prepared like rice, and its nutty flavor adds hearty, toothsome texture to salads, pilafs and stews. The dense seeds require a good amount of seasoning, so don't be shy with your spices and aromatics. This salad looks to the Southwest for flavor, fragrance and chile heat. Finely grated carrot ripples throughout the salad, providing refreshing moisture and sweetness. Be sure to taste the salad as you build it.

This recipe can be prepared in advance and will remain fresh for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. If making ahead, add the parsley and cilantro shortly before serving to maintain their freshness and prevent wilting.

Southwestern quinoa salad

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves: six

1½ cups quinoa

2 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a press

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 thin scallions, sliced

1 to 2 carrots, peeled, finely grated

1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced

1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco (or to taste)

1½ cups cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped

1 packed cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped

Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve under cold running water. Drain and transfer to a saucepan. Cover with 2 inches of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa seeds release their germ (the white tail), about 15 minutes.

Drain the quinoa and transfer to a bowl. Add the garlic, oil, salt, cumin, paprika, coriander and black pepper. Stir to combine, then cool to room temperature.

Add all the remaining ingredients and stir again. Taste for seasoning. Add more spices, salt or herbs if you like.

Cover and refrigerate the salad for at least one hour to allow the flavors to develop. Before serving, give it another taste. The flavors will mellow the longer the salad sits.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California.

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