Meat Free Mondays — Summer Quinoa Salad

Here in Chicago, summer seems to be winding down already.

This year, we got all our really hot weather early: There were 44 days of 80F-plus temperatures from in June and July, which caused our garden’s harvest to arrive early. Tomato and pepper plants that usually produce fruit through the end of September are already startng to whither.

Still, it’s been a good harvest this year, with more Roma, Beefsteak and even Heirloom tomatoes than we could possibly use, as well as bushels full of jalapenos, green and red bell peppers. Even our yellow squash did well this year.

So far, I’ve already made garden tomato sauce, Caprese salad, bruschetta and any other tomato-centric recipe I could think of, not to mention desperately giving away surplus produce to anybody who will take it.

Having stumbled across this tri-coloed quinoa at Trader Joe’s (don’t you just love wanding the aisles at TJ’s, looking at all the fun ingredients and dreaming up recipes? I sure do!), I decided to make this summer quinoa salad. While it makes a great appetizer, the addition of some black beans and smoked mozzarella make it protein-rich enough to be served as an entree.

This is an example of a compound salad, which basically means you take a primary ingredient and build a salad around it using other ingredients. Compound salads can be protein-based (chicken or tuna salad), carbohydrate based (potato, rice or quinoia salad), or vegetable based (broccoli, carrot and raisin, coleslaw).

The great thing about compound salads is that they can be made out of just about anything. I’ve been the buffet chef at a lot of different restaurants, and having a large assortment of compound salads is a great way to add value to your salad bar.

When designing a compound salad, there are four elements to consider: Flavor, color, texture and nutritional value.For this particular salad, because quinoa is a nutty-flavored grain (texture), I wanted to add tartness (garden tomatoes), color (asparagus), and complimentary flavor (smokiness of the mozzarella).

Part of the garden, including a jalapeno plant, globe basil, regular basil, Greek oregano and some sort of spring onion plant

A lot of times, the dressing of a compound salad is a balance of sweetness and bitterness, usually accomplished through the use of some sort of vinegar and sugar or honey, such as a coleslaw dressing.

But for this particular salad, I wanted the nuttiness of this fun tri-color quinoa to be the central flavor, with the other ingredients either contrasting it and underscroring it, so I dressed it with plain Extra Virgin Olive Oil to add a lush richness but not to interfere with the other flavors.

Am I overthinking this salad or what?!

Summer Quinoa Salad

1 cup Tri-Color Quinoa (or plain quinoa)

2 cups Water

1/2 lb Fresh Asparagus

1 can Black Beans, drained and rinsed

6 oz. Smoked Mozzarella, cubed

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

2 stalks Celery, small dice

2 Jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

3 Tomatoes, ribs and seeds removed, diced


Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Cayenne Pepper

1. Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for about five minutes so all the liquid is absorbed, then fluff with a fork. Allow to cool completely (I was in a hurry, so I transferred it to a sheet pan and spread it out so that it cooled down in about 10 minutes time).

2. Blanch aspagus by steaming it until cooked soft but still bright green, about 4 minutes, then immediately plunging it into ice water to stop the cooking process. Cut into 1/2-inch peices.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, black beans, asparagus, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, mozzarella and celery and toss together. Drizzle with EVOO, add  just a dash of cayenne,  and season to taste with salt and pepper.

While you can use cayenne pepper to add heat to a dish, adding just a small amount is a great way to bring out the flavors of other ingredients.

Whether I am serving a compound salad in a bowl on a salad bar or on plate for individual service, I always underline it with a leaf of red or green leaf lettuce. I wanted to add a little height to this salad, which otherwise just slumps on the plate, so I stuck some scallion stalks coming out of it, but in hindsight something bright red, such as thinly sliced red bell pepper rings, might have worked better.


3 thoughts on “Meat Free Mondays — Summer Quinoa Salad

  1. Nice! I’ve tried quinoa and thought it was alright, but I’ve heard some interesting things about the health benefits of it that make me want to investigate it a bit more deeply.

  2. I’d love to try this – unfortunately I’m having difficulties convincing the family to try new textures. Even cous-cous (one of MY favourites) is an unpopular dish … I’ll just have to keep trying 😉

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