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Cape Flavors

Craving cold salad?  Quinoa will do the trick

By Denise Clemons | Jun 02, 2014
Photo by: Jack Clemons Quinoa and mint salad is ideal for days when the temperatures soar above 80F.

With daytime temperatures reaching the high 80s last weekend, the prospect of summer seemed to have become a reality. As I returned home from an outdoor ceremony on Memorial Day, I was craving a cold salad. Unfortunately, it had been over a week since our last trip to the market, and there wasn’t a single leaf of lettuce to be found in the crisper.

The good news was that we’d saved a bowl of leftover quinoa, which gave me the idea to assemble a variation on pasta salad. Instead of penne or corkscrew pasta, we tossed red quinoa with lemon juice to make sure the curiously shaped grains wouldn't be dry. Next we added garbanzo beans, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts and shredded mint.

To complete the dressing and add another layer of flavor, we added a splash of rice wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. The results were terrific, a combination of textures and tastes, from crunchy to delicate and from quiet to sharp. After time in the refrigerator, the dish became even more interesting as the flavors blended together.

This is an easy template to adapt to a variety of options, with grains replacing pasta as the backbone of a healthy salad. Consider anything from rice to barley, farro or quinoa. For beans, the colorful options come in many shades and sizes: pinto, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini or black beans. Any cheese included in the mix will need to have an assertive profile like feta, blue or sharp aged cheddar.

You can create a wide range of themes for your salad with the dressing ingredients. For a Mexican signature, include chopped cilantro and chili powder in the lime juice and olive oil dressing. For a French flair, try tarragon and shallots with a dollop of dijon mustard.

There’s no limit to the variety of ingredients to include. These recipes are basically grains, beans and cheese, but you can also toss in chopped tomato, avocado, corn or other interesting flavors and textures. To keep the salad picnic-safe, avoid anything that requires constant refrigeration; the cheese will be fine, but mayonnaise will not.

I’ve included instructions for the salad in the photo, which can also be made with white quinoa. The two other versions are open to endless modification; feel free to edit with your personal tastes in mind. What a handy way to take advantage of leftovers.

Savory Quinoa Salad

2 C cooked quinoa
juice of 1 lemon
1 C canned garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
1/4 C toasted pine nuts*
1 T shredded mint leaves
2 t rice wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste


Place the quinoa in a serving bowl and add lemon juice; toss gently to coat grains. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings; serve chilled or at room temperature. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. *Note: to toast pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat; cook until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the skillet regularly.

Sweet Quinoa Salad

2 C cooked quinoa
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 t lemon zest
1 C canned white beans, drained
1/2 C crumbled blue cheese
1 T chopped parsley
1 T snipped chives
1/3 C toasted pecans
1/3 C craisins*
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste


Place the quinoa in a serving bowl and add lemon juice; toss gently to coat grains. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings; serve chilled or at room temperature. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

*Note: craisins are dried, sweetened cranberries, sold with a number of added flavorings.

Spicy Quinoa Salad

2 C cooked quinoa
juice of 2 limes
1/4 t lime zest
1 C canned pinto beans, drained
1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar
1/4 C diced red onion
1 T chopped cilantro
1/3 C toasted slivered almonds
1/2 t chili powder
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste


Place the quinoa in a serving bowl and add lime juice; toss gently to coat grains. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings; serve chilled or at room temperature. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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