I come from a family that likes to be creative in the kitchen. I enjoy dreaming up new recipes, as well as putting a spin on old favorites.
A friend of mine introduced me to quinoa several years ago, and I was surprised by how it made tabbouleh taste even better than it already does. Quinoa, while actually a seed rather than a cereal grain, can be used much like cereal grains in many recipes. Originally enjoyed primarily in South America, it has grown in popularity around the globe over the past decade or so. This is due, in part, to it containing generous amounts of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals; some vegetarians and vegans find eating quinoa to be a good way to add necessary nutrients to their diets that they might otherwise be missing. Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free, which makes it a friendly food for those who are celiacs, or are gluten-sensitive.
I have incorporated this nutty-tasting seed into a salad with vegetables, queso fresco, and a cilantro-lime dressing to create a healthy, satisfying side dish. If you have never eaten quinoa, I encourage you to try this salad and see why so many people find this little seed to be so delicious!
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Serves 12 people about 1 cup of salad each
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For the salad:
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups diced tomato
- 1 1/2 cups diced yellow pepper
- 1 cup diced sweet onion
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 6 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
For the salad dressing:
- 1 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions. This normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
- While the quinoa is cooking, cut up the tomatoes, yellow peppers, onion, cucumbers, and black olives. Also chop the cilantro and juice the limes for the salad dressing.
- Once the quinoa is done cooking, fluff it with a fork, then place it in a wide-mouthed bowl or on a large plate. Place the dish in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to cool the quinoa (stir it around halfway through the time to make sure the quinoa on the bottom cools).
- Prepare the salad dressing while the quinoa is cooling. Whisk the lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper together in a small bowl.
- Combine the vegetables with the cooled quinoa. Crumble the queso fresco over the salad and stir it in. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and stir it in well so that it is evenly distributed. This dish can be served immediately at room temperature, or be refrigerated for at least an hour before being served if one desires it to be chilled. Refrigerate any uneaten portion.
- Cook the quinoa the night before you intend to make the salad, as this will cut down on the preparation time when you are putting the salad together.
- If you are unable to buy fresh cilantro, you can substitute dried cilantro. Use 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of it in the dressing, and let the dressing sit for a few minutes so that the dried herb can infuse into the dressing. It will alter the taste of the salad, as the cilantro flavor will not be as strong, but it will work. (Fresh parsley is also a possible substitute, though it will definitely give the salad a different flavor.)
- I use a tricolor quinoa mix because it gives the salad additional eye-appeal; you can, however, use only one color (such as the white/golden), and it will not affect the taste.
- Chilling the salad for at least an hour allows the flavors to meld together more fully. Stirring it before serving will fluff the salad back up after it has been sitting in the refrigerator, as well as redistribute any dressing that may have filtered down to the bottom of the bowl.
- Vegans can omit the queso fresco or substitute tofu to keep this salad in line with their eating preferences.
- This recipe makes enough for a large party if the salad is being used as a side-dish, or for a family dinner if it is being served as a main dish. It can be easily adjusted for a smaller setting, though, by reducing the amount of all the ingredients by half.