Chef Dad’s Quinoa Salad

Jul 17, 2013

I like to make this salad in the height of summer when local farms and gardens are turning out tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and fresh herbs, but I've made this in the dead of winter to great success with a little help from Ontario greenhouses. First off, quinoa is a tiny superfood from South America that is shockingly easy to cook. I don't want to go into too much detail about it (there are a number of books and articles out there right now with scores of stats and information), but I can do a quick "411."

  • It is pronounced "keen-wa."
  • It is classed as a "superfood" - meaning it's a food with high nutritional and health benefits while being unprocessed and low in saturated fats.
  • It is what is known as a perfect protein: it contains substantial amounts of all nine essential amino acids - the ones that your body does not produce itself.
  • It is relatively neutral tasting - a "culinary chameleon" - that takes on the flavours it is "dressed" with (we'll talk about that later).
  • The United Nations has deemed 2013 "The Year of Quinoa." No kidding. Happy Year of Quinoa!

This recipe is simple, fast, tasty and is probably the healthiest thing I eat. It's full of veggies, quinoa, protein, vitamins and minerals. I'll share this recipe with you, but you must promise me one thing: DON'T TELL MY KIDS THAT IT'S GOOD FOR THEM!!!  You'll get faces like this:I hope, however, this recipe will give you faces like this:Without further adieu, here's Chef Dad's Quinoa Salad (printer friendly pdf)

You'll need ...

  • 1 cup quinoa (uncooked, rinsed in cold water)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 shallot (finely diced)
  • 1 lemon (zested and juiced)
  • 2 tbsp parsley (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp chives (finely chopped)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 English cucumber (seeded and coarsely diced)
  • 1 red pepper (seeded and coarsely diced)
  • 3 ripe tomatoes (coarsely diced)
  • 1/2 head romaine or iceberg lettuce (chopped "salad sized")

Here's what you do ...

1. In a medium-sized pot, bring about 1.5 litres of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa and boil for about 10 minutes.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, shallot, lemon juice, parsley and chives. Season with salt and pepper.
3. When the quinoa is cooked, strain it and spread it out on a cookie sheet.

4. This next step is the most important: drizzle the hot quinoa with the dressing. Doing this when the quinoa is still warm allows it to absorb the tangy dressing.
5. Once the quinoa is cool, transfer it to a large mixing bowl, and add the cucumber, pepper, tomato, and lettuce. Toss well to combine. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly. You may want a touch more vinegar or lemon juice for a tangier salad. Enjoy!

Cheffer's Inside Scoop

  • You can add or substitute any herbs you like into this salad. I love cilantro and basil, but these are strong flavours, so use caution.
  • Quinoa is a "culinary chameleon." It takes on the flavours paired with it. This is why I recommend strong herbs and flavours like citrus and vinegars.
  • Quinoa (like rice) can be cooked in a number of ways - steamed, simmered and even in a rice cooker - but I still find that boiling it like pasta is the easiest way.
  • I usually add raw red onion to this salad, but it may be a little strong for kids. Celery also adds great crunch and flavor.
  • There is a growing debate about the ethics of quinoa - that its popularity is driving up the price for those who rely on it as a staple. I offer this point as food for thought, and some of you may wish to look into these claims a little deeper. 

Patrick Engel has been cooking professionally for 15 years. After graduating from George Brown College in Toronto, and training in the kitchens of Rodney's Oyster House and Bymark Restaurant, Patrick relocated to Niagara's wine region, working at Inn on the Twenty, followed by six years as resident chef instructor at The Good Earth Cooking School. Patrick is currently the chef at Hospice Niagara's Stabler Centre and associate chef at The Garrison House in Niagara-on-the Lake. Patrick lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with his wife, Marnie, and their two boys, Charlie (7) and Johnny (5). 

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