Quinoa Salad with Black Beans
I am currently in South America – Buenos Aires to be more precise. So far, I am pleasantly surprised. The people are warm and inviting; the food has been amazing; our hotel is surrounded by small shops, markets and trendy restaurants. More details on my trip, the food and everything else that goes along with the travel experience to follow in a later post. The point of this post is to discuss cooking with the ancient “grain” quinoa, from South America, and it just so happens I am in South America. There…I have made the connection. On we go.
I discovered quinoa (pronounced Keen – wah) a few years back while looking for a vegetarian filling for stuffed peppers that was more nutritious than rice. For most, quinoa is known as a type of grain, not entirely true though. If you want to get techinical, quinoa is actually a seed; it is referred to as a grain because of its cooking characteristics.
Quinoa has a very delicate flavor and a lovely texture. People have said it is similar to couscous – I disagree. The texture is soft, yet there is slight bite from the spiral tail of the quinoa. Spiral tail? Yes, as quinoa cooks the outer germ around each grain twists to form a white spiral tail. This tail is what gives it a pleasant bite or crunch. The texture combination is why I love quinoa – it is heartier, more nourishing than other grains. And thanks to its recent exposure in cooking magazines and shows, you can easily find quinoa at most supermarkets and at natural foods stores.
Quinoa is high in fiber, calcium and iron, low in fat and is very easy to digest. Compared to other grains, quinoa is the highest in complete protein which makes it an ideal ingredient for vegetarians. Quinoa is so nutritious in fact, that it was used to sustain Incan armies who would march for several days on a simple mixture of quinoa and fat, or “war balls” as they called them. As I stated previously, quinoa is an ancient grain; records show that quinoa has been cultivated in the South American Andes since around 3000 BC. Quinoa has only been grown outside of South America for a relatively short period of time. In the US, most quinoa comes out of Colorado.
So, how do you cook this stuff? I cook my quinoa in a saucepan, a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa. For the liquid, I usually substitute stock for water as the grains absorb so much of the flavor. Rinse your quinoa before cooking to remove any leftover residue. I bring my stock up to a boil, add the quinoa and reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. I usually let it sit for about 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Then I fluff with a fork and set aside. Don’t worry too much if there is a bit of excess water on the grains – it tends to evaporate as it sits. If you feel compelled, you can always drain in a wire strainer. I suggest reading the instructions on your box as each variety of quinoa cooks differently. Trial and error works best when cooking quinoa.
Quinoa can be used in hot and cold salads and casseroles, or you can add quinoa to soups and stews for more substance. This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious – Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro. I used roasted red peppers and ancho chili powder for an even richer, smokier “southwest” flavor. The fresh cilantro adds a bright flavor to the recipe, you notice it immediately – it screams “fresh”.
Quinoa Salad with Black Beans
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
- 1 jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, drained
- 3 teaspoons ancho chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
- Feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1.) Prepare your quinoa to the package directions. Rinse before cooking. Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.
2.) Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
3.) Stir in the roasted red peppers, ancho chili powder and cumin and salt.
4.) Remove the mixture from heat, place in a large bowl and let stand to cool.
5.) Once your onion mixture is cool, add the black beans, ¼ cup of the cilantro and quinoa.
6.) Just prior to serving sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup of cilantro and feta cheese. This dish is served at room temperature. Taste again, season with salt and pepper as needed.