Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Black Olives

I first noticed quinoa (pronounced "kin-wah") at Costco a little over 4 years ago. I picked up the package to read the nutrition label and was pleasantly surprised. While I had expected to see something tantamount to rice, bulgur wheat or other common grain, it turns out that quinoa is a bonafide protein superfood.

Quinoa is an ancient grain which was of great importance to the pre-Columbian Andean civilizations.  Now embraced by vegans worldwide as an important source of protein, it is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and manganese. It has a slightly nutty and chewy texture, somewhat reminiscent of a good al dente pasta.

We've been eating it in the Gruggen household for several years now, often substituting quinoa for rice and potato dishes. I happened to be surfing foodnetwork.com this week for new quinoa recipes and came across one from one of my favorite chefs, Bobby Flay. I made it tonight and it was excellent...a perfect blend of flavors and textures.

One strong word of advice: use good, imported nicoise or kalamata olives sold in a glass jar. Do not use any domestic olives...and woe be to you if you dare get your black olives out of a can. Good imported olives will add just the right piquancy and brightness to this delicious salad. This recipe serves six. While this salad can be served warm, tonight was a hot night, so I made it an hour ahead of time and served it at room temperature.

Ingredients for the Vinaigrette
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey (vegans use sugar)
1 tablespoon mustard, stone ground preferred
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Ingredients for the Quinoa Salad
4 cups chicken stock (vegans use vegetable stock)
2 cups quinoa
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
16 spears of asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil, for brushing asparagus
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup of pitted, imported nicoise or kalamata olives
4 ounces goat cheese (vegans use soy cheese)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


  1. For the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, honey and mustard in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.  Add the olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste and whisk again.
  2. For the quinoa salad: Bring the stock to a boil and add the thyme. Stir in the quinoa, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. 
  3. Preheat a grill or broiler. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If grilling, grill on all sides until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. If broiling, place directly under broiler for 5 minutes. Remove from the grill or broiler and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. 
  4. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl, fold in the asparagus, olives, goat cheese and basil. Add just enough vinaigrette to moisten the salad; don't make it too wet. Serve.

Wine pairing: Viognier, Pinot Gris

Quinoa is readily available at Costco and Amazon.com

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