When I read “Quinoa Salad” on a menu anywhere, my heart… drops. I’m suspicious, and for a few reasons:
Will the salad be a soggy mush? Will it taste like dirt (as all unwashed quinoa does)? Will it have any flavor at all??
I worry about these things with quinoa. As someone who has made more soggy quinoa salad than delicious ones, I can attest it’s not appetizing. (And certainly not a good look if you’re trying to convince your friends to eat more quinoa).
This recipe – I promise – is not a soggy quinoa salad recipe.
An Indian-inspired healthy quinoa salad recipe
Inspired by Kashmiri naan (that’s a flatbread stuffed with golden raisins and other sweet flavors, which vary depending on your vendor), I wanted to make a side dish for my Indian stews that tasted good and didn’t pump-up the calorie count. I was also unabashedly trying to clear out my pantry and willing to risk it on one more weird quinoa creation. Lone-behold, this venture proved a winner.
My favorite local Indian restaurant stuffs its Kashmiri naan with coconut, golden raisins, and rose syrup. I didn’t have rose syrup, but I had plenty of coconut leftover from making granola. I tossed in some roasted, salted pistachios and chopped arugula to compete with the sweetness and added what remained of my wilting cilantro.
Already, the aroma overwhelmed my nose. I had started a flavor war in my mixing bowl, and no amount of quinoa could quell it. So, I whisked together a simple lemon dressing. By simple, that means five easy ingredients:
- extra virgin olive oil
- distilled white vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
- lemon juice (I actually didn’t have this, one time, and used ground sumac instead. Tasted the same to me!)
- ground pepper
- kosher salt
What makes this a sustainable recipe?
Quinoa is an ancient grain that has fallen into the media spotlight in recent years for its amazing health benefits. However, it’s gaining more rapport for its environmental benefits lately. Here’s why:
Quinoa made the list of the world top 50 most sustainable foods (see the Future 50 Foods from the World Wildlife Foundation). It’s a more-sustainable grain to produce than rice because it requires less water. Amanda Little, an environmental journalist and professor, discusses this further in her recent book The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat In A Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World.
This quinoa craze comes with an asterisk. Over 3,000 types of quinoa exist, yet only a few are in high-demanded by Western culture. This had disincentivized farmers from growing the other variations and resulted in soil degradation. So, I encourage you to try different kinds of quinoa that’s sustainably-sourced.
Arugula is also a go-to green for me because I can find it year-round. If you want to trade it for another green, I would suggest choosing a more bitter, crunchier green like dandelion leaves or watercress. Kale and spinach don’t balance out the flavor war quite like these.Print
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 12 oz arugula
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup pistachios
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- In a fine-mesh strainer, rinse the quinoa until the water runs through clear. Add the quinoa to a pot with 2 cups water and cover. Bring to a boil then turn the heat low to simmer for 20 minutes or until all the water is gone. Poke holes in the quinoa to let steam out. Cool completely.
- Roughly chop the arugula and add to a large bowl. Add the quinoa, raisins, pistachios, coconut, and cilantro.
- In a liquid measuring cup, add the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice (or sumac), and salt and pepper. Whisk, and then mix the dressing into the salad.
If you don’t have lemon juice, swap for a pinch of ground sumac or orange juice. Orange juice will give it a different flavor, so be scanty.
- Serving Size: about 1 cup
- Calories: 290
How to not make soggy quinoa
Please, please, please… WASH YOUR QUINOA. If not to remove the dirt (and thus, dirt-flavor), do it for food safety. I know that this is an easy and tempting step to skip, but it will make a difference. I have also found that it improves the consistency of the quinoa – I’ve only ever made soggy quinoa after rinsing it once, and that’s because I flooded the pot with water. Oops.
Use a fine-mesh strainer and tap water. I like to use the hose of my sink because it’s more powerful. Do this until the water running through the quinoa and into the sink in clear (usually within 30-45 seconds).
Add the quinoa directly to a medium-sized pot with 2 cups water. The ratio I use for quinoa to water is 1:2. Cover with a lid and set on medium-high. Once it boils, turn the heat to low and simmer until all the water in the pot gets soaked-up or evaporated. This can take 12-15 min., typically.
Sometimes my water bubbles over even at a low heat. When this happens, I prop the lid open on one side to let out more steam.
When the water is gone, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the heat. Poke holes in the quinoa – go all the way to the bottom of the pot. This will help let more steam escape, which would otherwise leave your quinoa soggy.
If I’m in a rush, I will empty the quinoa onto a baking sheet, spread it out, and then poke holes in it to release steam. I found that spreading it out helps it cool down faster and gives me the drier quinoa texture I want.
How to store and serve the quinoa and arugula salad
This salad tastes amazing when fresh, but it can also be enjoyed cold. The key is to let the quinoa cool COMPLETELY before you mix it with the other ingredients. Wilt the arugula, and you lose an essential crunch this salad needs.
I store the salad in an air-tight container and keep it for as long as the arugula doesn’t smell, which is about a week an a half. I usually can eat it all by then, anyway, but it’s a big salad for one person to tackle herself.
This salad works well for meal planning because it makes such a large quantity. I made it this way on purpose – Indian dishes are best made in large quantities and served family-style. I intended this salad to serve the same purpose and accompany a large stew or curry-flavored protein.
Here are some suggested partners:
- Minimal-Effort, Slow Cooker Lentil Dahl
- Sweet Potato, Chickpea & Spinach Curry
- Easy Saag Tofu (Vegan Saag Paneer)