Kitchen Witch - Going with the grain

Sarah's Southwestern Quinoa Salad

When I left home, I moved from New York to Oakland, Calif., where I shared a warehouse with three other East Coast transplants. To all of us, California was still the frontier, and the Bay Area's notoriously crunchy vibe both intrigued us and drove us crazy.

We made fun of the California lifestyle, joking about starting an algae commune where we would grow vats of blue-green algae and live exclusively off the stuff. But in reality, it was hard not to be seduced by the mounds of fresh produce at the Berkeley Bowl, the East Bay's premier health-food store, or by the grain bins filled with things I had never seen before on the East Coast.

One day, my housemate Sarah brought home a bag of quinoa, declaring that she had a recipe from her mother for an amazing salad using the New Age grain. My other housemate Jack read the package with its description of the Incan wonder-food, and declared, "It's the ancient grain of the future!"

Sarah was notorious for not pulling her weight around the house, for neglecting to clean and never making dinner. But she made up for it that night with her mother's quinoa salad. It was the healthiest thing any of us had eaten in weeks, and the most delicious as well. The nutty quinoa paired with the tang of lime and cilantro, the crisp crunch of red pepper, and the sweetness of summer tomatoes. It was the California aesthetic rolled into one dish, and we gobbled it up.

None of us were able to stick with California for the long haul — we were too cynical, and eventually either you have to give in to the West Coast's open-spirited vibe or get out. But California gave me some gifts that I will forever hold dear — I still miss those fresh algae drinks, but I can partake of the ancient grain of the future whenever I want.

Sarah's Southwestern Quinoa Salad

Serves 2-3

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 can black beans, drained

1 small red pepper, diced

1 tomato, diced

2 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add quinoa, stir and cook until toasted, about five minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, cumin and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to stand for five minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil with the lime juice. Add the beans, red pepper, tomato, green onions, cilantro and parsley. Stir in quinoa.

Serve with warm tortillas. This dish also makes a great base over which to serve grilled fish.

Culinary questions? Contact regular Kitchen Witch columnist Kim O'Donnel at


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