It’s Summer!! And you know what that means!!? Picnics and barbecues, pool parties and outdoor events day and night. It also means homemade and store-bought food sitting out in the heat for hours on end. Aside from the health risk of leaving gloppy, mayonnaise-based coleslaw, potato and macaroni salads out in the sun, it is just not very satisfying. After eating a creamy macaroni salad, as delicious as it may be, I feel weighed down…ready for a snooze- not another dip in the pool or a game of frisbee. I want something lighter that will give me not only energy, but great health benefits as well- and why not add a fresh and healthy option without skimping on flavor! That is why I LOVE this quinoa salad!!
Quinoa salad are popping up left and right. Just do a Google search and you’ll be able to find a multitude of options. Why is this? Because word of quinoa’s amazing benefits is spreading fast! Due it their small, round shape, they resemble couscous- and are often mistaken for couscous. However, they could not be more different. Couscous is actually pasta made from Durham wheat flour and water. Many people believe that they are making a healthy choice with couscous, but unfortunately it’s no different than white spaghetti or penne pasta. You might as well go for the macaroni salad! At least you aren’t being fooled with that option.
Quinoa on the other hand, is a seed, and technically not a grain. However, nutritionally it can be considered a WHOLE grain- but it is so much more! These seeds have a bitter exterior, called saponin, that is a natural defense designed to keep insects and birds away without the use of pesticides. For this reason, they must be washed before cooking. Most commercially sold quinoa is pre-washed, however, I like to give them a quick rinse before cooking just for good measure. Quinoa brings power punch of nutrients. To start, it is a complete protein. That means they contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies need but do not produce on its own. There are only a handful of plant-based foods that can say the same. With slowly-digestible complex carbohydrates, it is great for sustaining energy without blood sugar highs and lows. Containing iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, B-vitamins, and vitamin E, quinoa is a great source of vitamins and minerals. Because it is a WHOLE grain, toy are also ingesting plenty of fiber to keep you fuller longer, allow your digestive tract to function happily and healthfully, and potentially lower blood cholesterol. Quinoa’s plentiful array of antioxidants make it true contender, and now researchers have found very high levels of certain antioxidants present that may be even greater than some berries. It is naturally a gluten-free food and is thus suitable for those with a gluten sensitivity.
To top off all of this great news, quinoa is very easy to cook! Just bring 2 parts water to a boil, add 1 part quinoa, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and let the magic happen in 25 minutes or less. It can be eaten as a side in place of rice or pasta, as a hot breakfast cereal, as a sweet dessert (like a rice pudding), or cooled and served as a salad like I have made here.
This Quinoa Salad is both sweet and tart. Dried cranberries bring out the sweetness in the honey balsamic vinaigrette, while diced red onions and toasted walnuts add crunch and mixed greens bring a slightly bitter, but light and fresh quality. It is simple to assemble and an easy make-ahead as it only gets better with time.
- 1 cup dry (uncooked) quinoa
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- 7 cups Spring Mix salad greens
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Cook quinoa according to package directions and allow to completely cool.
- Add onions, cranberries, and walnuts.
- Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients, or pulse in a blender.
- Pour over quinoa mixture, and stir to combine.
- Add salad greens just before serving. Enjoy!