I don’t normally like putting labels on people based on what they eat because I find it somewhat limiting, except when it comes to quinoa. Almost all vegetarians eat quinoa, so to think that most vegetarians and vegans eat quinoa weekly because that’s the kind of nutritious grind they subject themselves to, is not that big of an assumption. Don’t let that turn you off from quinoa, though, because when prepared well it is a dish that everyone loves. Quinoa is incredibly healthful and contains all essential amino acids that humans cannot produce on their own. Even better is the fact that it cooks faster than a pot of rice and is incredibly versatile, providing an excellent base for salads, stir-fries, curries, soups, and even bread.
To be completely honest though, the first half-dozen times I tried quinoa, I thought it was the most disgusting food I had ever tasted. It was bitter, soggy, and generally unexciting. Once I learned how to prepare quinoa properly, I realized how delicious it is. Quinoa must be rinsed before cooking to remove the bitter saponins on its surface, and I recommend cooking it in a 3 : 2 ratio of grains to water, rather than the 2 : 1 ratio most distributers suggest—this gives the quinoa a fluffy texture and helps it cook faster.
Once you have a batch of cooked quinoa ready to go, it forms the perfect base for hearty lunch salads. This version includes all the highlights of autumn—apples, toasted walnuts, and dried cranberries—tossed with an apple cider vinaigrette and some nutty chickpeas. So go ahead a label me as a quinoa-vegetarian from California, but not before you give this salad a try yourself.
Autumn Quinoa Salad
1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
1 ½ cups water
½ cup walnut halves
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt (or a heaping ¼ teaspoon table salt)
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1, 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 crisp apple, cut into matchsticks
1/3 cup dried cranberries
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the quinoa and water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the water is absorbed, then set aside. If you have a rice cooker, simply combine the quinoa and water in the rice cooker and press start.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts until golden brown and fragrant, 5-6 minutes. Take off the heat, coarsely chop, and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the apple cider, red wine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, walnuts, chickpeas, apple, and dried cranberries, then pour the dressing over the top and toss to combine thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: If you are not a quinoa fan, you can substitute couscous for the cooked quinoa: pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup of couscous and let sit, covered for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Continue to prepare the recipe, starting with step 2.