“I actually cooked something I really liked!” Maureen exclaimed one evening, about a month ago, as I walked in the door around 9:30 after teaching a class for Kaplan. Now, Maureen and I do fairly even duty in the kitchen, at least when it comes to dinners. But she had made a string of meals that while perfectly edible, she considered failures, so cooking was becoming a little disheartening. This salad, however, was excellent, and has hopefully restored her confidence. We happily ate it for lunch several days in a row without getting tired of it, and we made it again for our cook-out this weekend, only this time I helped. Most of our guests had never had quinoa before, but they all seemed to enjoy their first excursion.

So assuming some of you, too, have never had Quinoa, here is a short introduction. Quinoa is a pseudo grain — it is actually a seed, but it behaves like a grain. To prepare it, you simmer the seeds in water (or broth) until they’ve absorbed all of the liquid, just like you do when you make rice. Quinoa has a subtle nutty flavor when cooked, and can easily be substituted for bulger in recipes like tabbouleh or it can be used in place of couscous. Because, quinoa is not really a grain, it is a great choice for passover, as well. Even better, quinoa contains a complete protein, is high in antioxidants, magnesium, and is a good source of fiber — making quinoa a healthier choice than wheat or rice. If you live in Atlanta you can buy it in bulk at the Dekalb Farmers Market both in seed and flour form. I haven’t actually played around much with quinoa while baking, but when I do you’ll be sure to hear about it.

But really, if you’ve never tried quinoa, this recipe is a great introduction. But don’t stop there: also try Heidi Swanson’s Lemon Scented Quinoa or her Delicious Big Bowl – Quinoa, both of which are sure to please. Or, be like me and substitute the couscous for quinoa in Smitten Kitchen’s Couscous and feta-stuffed peppers. These peppers were amazing (or maybe I just have a thing for quinoa and feta together).

Greek Quinoa Salad (serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as entree, so we double or triple it when we make it)
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded fresh spinach
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion (1 small)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Spinach leaves
2 ripe avocados, halved, seeded, peeled, and sliced
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)

1. Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to boiling, then
reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until liquid is
absorbed.
2. Place quinoa in a medium bowl. Add tomato, shredded spinach, and
onion. Stir to combine.
3. In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, oil, and salt. Add to
quinoa mixture; toss to coat.
4. Place spinach leaves on salad plates. Arrange avocado slices on
top. Spoon quinoa mixture over the avocado slices. Sprinkle with feta
cheese.

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