Mexican Quinoa Salad With Queso Fresco and Cilantro
Fresh salads are my favorite summertime meal. This Mexican quinoa salad, with a light cumin-lime dressing, avocados, tomatoes, corn, beans, queso fresco, and cilantro, can be served warm or at room temperature. It stays fresh for several days, and can be enjoyed as a side or as a meal unto itself.
Mexican Quinoa Salad
Quinoa - Keen-WHAT?
Once considered the gold of the Incas, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") is one of the only plant-based foods that serves up a full protein. Also rich in calcium, phosporous, and iron, this light, fluffy grain is slightly nutty and earthy in flavor. Alone, it may be too earthy for some, but dressed properly it is absolutely delicious.
A healthy alternative to rice, quinoa is cooked by simmering it water for about 15 minutes or by cooking it in a rice cooker. Some also eat it for breakfast, much like oatmeal or grits. It is sometimes used as a pasta substitute, and is gluten-free, a great alternative for those with celiac disease.
Literally "fresh cheese" in Spanish, this Mexican cheese is made from raw cow's milk. Light and fresh, queso fresco is mild in flavor, salty, and creamy, without being heavy. Queso fresco melts when heated, so is often used as a filling in Mexican dishes (enchiladas, yum!), but can be sprinkled on tops of beans or other salads. It can replace feta or goat cheese and stands well on its own, or as part of a variety of dishes.
While usually made with pasteurized milk when produced in the United States to limit risks of illness from bacteria, traditional queso fresco is best when fresh, and should only be kept for a few days.
- 2 cups Quinoa
- 4 cups stock or water
- 2 ears corn, or 2 cups frozen
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1-2 avocado, chopped
- 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 ounces queso fresco, cubed
- 3-4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 3/4 tablespoon cumin
- to taste salt and pepper
- Add 2 cups quinoa to 4 cups of water or broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Steam the corn and slice off the kernels. (If using frozen corn, remove from the freezer).
- Chop the tomatoes and avocados.
- Drain and rinse the black beans.
- Dice the queso fresco.
- Chop the cilantro.
- Combine the olive oil, lime juice, cumin, and salt and pepper. Whisk until blended.
- Allow the quinoa to cool to room temperature.
- Add corn, tomatoes, beans, and avocado to quinoa and gently toss.
- Add dressing and toss.
- Top with queso fresco and cilantro. Toss gently.
- Season with salt, pepper, and cumin to taste, and serve.
- This dish can easily be made ahead. Quinoa soaks up the flavors, so it even gets better with time. And, the acid from the lime juice helps the avocado stay green for up to 2 days.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Serve as a summer main or side dish.
- Makes a great vegetarian main dish, especially given the high protein content of quinoa. Just make sure to use water or vegetable stock, rather than chicken stock to cook the quinoa.
- Add roasted chicken to add even more heartiness.
- Make extra quinoa to eat later in the week. Cooked quinoa can stay fresh for several days. Keep it on hand for a quick salad. Toss with cucumbers, shredded carrots, halved grape tomatoes, feta, olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano for another tasty treat.