The Incas revered quinoa (“mother grain” in their ancient language, pronounced “keen-wah” in ours) as sacred, and it served as a staple food until Spanish missionaries razed the idolatrous crops in the 16th century. (Take out a protein-packed superfood, throw in a little smallpox and modern warfare, and you have yourself the end of an empire.) Quinoa is famous as a nutritional powerhouse (protein, iron, magnesium, B vitamins) but it also boasts a pleasant texture (somehow springy, fluffy, tender and firm all at once) and a wholesome, nutty flavor.
My Aunt Kathy forwarded me this satisfying recipe (she served it with salmon and asparagus for an al fresco family dinner in DC last month) and I was pleased, if unsurprised, to discover it was developed by Deborah Madison, whose Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone I’ve dog-eared and splattered to near ruin in the ten years I’ve had it. (It was, now that I think of it, a Christmas present from Kathy.) I’d forgotten how ridiculously easy quinoa is to prepare – fifteen minutes on the stove, fluff with a fork, and it’s ready. Madison tosses the grains (they’re seeds, technically, but we don’t need to get overly scientific today) with a bright, piquant dressing and creamy hunks of avocado. Serve as a main or a side dish at room temperature, excellent for picnics and parties alike.
Deborah Madison’s Quinoa & Avocado Salad
adapted (barely) from Deborah Madison; serves four as a main
- 1 cup of red or white quinoa, rinsed well
- 2 tablespoons dried apricots, diced
- 3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
- one large avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2″ hunks
- two scallions, roots removed and thinly sliced (white and green parts)
- one large lemon, finely zested and 1 Tbsp juice reserved
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
- salt and pepper
In a medium (2-qt) saucepan, bring the quinoa, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat; cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. (The germ will separate as it cooks, a squiggly spiral in the center and around each seed.) Fluff with a fork and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
In a clean, lidded jar, combine the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, dried spices, 1/4 tsp salt and several grindings of black pepper. Shake to combine; taste to correct the seasoning. Dress the salad and gently toss with the apricots, almonds and avocado. Serve.
Note: most of the bitter saponin (quinoa’s natural defense against insects and birds) that coats each seed is removed in harvesting and processing, but you’ll still want to rinse your quinoa well before cooking, just in case.