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Easy dinner recipes: Quinoa is a superfood! Here are 4 great quinoa salads

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Quinoa. It's a South American grain-like crop that has come to be recognized as a nutrient-dense superfood, and it's all the rage right now. The seeds, or "grains" (quinoa is not a true cereal, though its seeds resemble and are similarly used like grains), of the plant can be found at most supermarkets, and it can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, and even popped.

If you've never cooked with it before, here are a couple tips: Rinse the grains under running water; they are coated with saponins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using. For extra depth of flavor, try toasting the quinoa before cooking it. After rinsing the grains, dry them in a towel, then toast them briefly in a dry skillet until they color slightly and have a nutty aroma.

To cook, place the rinsed grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish. Check out some of our recipe suggestions below.

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Try quinoa in a salad: Dark green julienned strips of kale are tossed with nutty quinoa and sunflower seeds, colorful bell pepper and red grapes, then dressed with a bright champagne vinaigrette. Parmigiano and manchego cheese lend a subtle richness; the preserved lemon strips add a nice salty tang. The salad comes together in under an hour.

Looking for a more robust dish that is still vegetarian? Try this combination of quinoa, meaty shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and crunchy toasted cashews. Sound good? These flavors come together in perfect harmony in this salad, which can be dinner tonight in less than an hour.

For something a little different, try this vibrant red salad from M Cafe. It's bright, refreshing and filling if you're looking for something on the lighter side. Oh, and it's vegan. Quinoa is cooked with finely diced beets, which tint the grain a vibrant shade of red. Cool the quinoa, then add cucumber, lemon zest and herbs and toss the salad with a tangy fresh vinaigrette. The recipe does require a little forethought when it comes to ingredients and a shopping list (you'll need to buy umeboshi vinegar -- available at select gourmet and Asian markets). And you might as well shop for extra of everything -- yeah, this salad is good enough you'll probably want a double batch.

For more easy dinner recipes, click through our photo gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below, or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

LA GRANDE ORANGE CAFE'S KALE AND QUINOA SALAD

Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Adapted from La Grande Orange Cafe in Pasadena. Preserved lemons can be found at select well-stocked grocery stores as well as at cooking and gourmet markets.

Champagne vinaigrette

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots

Pinch kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon chopped chervil

Ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, shallots and salt; set aside for 20 minutes to soften the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the oils while whisking to emulsify the vinaigrette. Whisk in the chervil and pepper. This makes a scant one-half cup vinaigrette; the vinaigrette will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 4 days.

Kale-and-quinoa salad

1/2 cup quinoa

Salt

4 cups loosely packed julienned kale, from 1 large bunch

Champagne vinaigrette

3 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

2/3 cup red seedless grapes, halved

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup grated Manchego cheese

10 to 12 strips finely julienned preserved lemon

1. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a simmer. Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse well, then drain, and add to the simmering water. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, about 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat and drain any remaining liquid. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. The quinoa can be made ahead of time and stored, covered and refrigerated, up to 3 days before using.

2. In a large bowl, place the kale and one-fourth cup of the vinaigrette. Using your hands, massage the vinaigrette into the kale until the kale is softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. To the bowl, add the cooled quinoa, the sunflower seeds, bell pepper, grapes and Parmigiano Reggiano, tossing to combine.

4. Divide the salad among serving plates, evenly sprinkling over the Manchego cheese and garnishing with the preserved lemon strips. Serve immediately.

Each of 4 servings: 375 calories; 9 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 6 grams sugar; 219 mg sodium.

QUINOA SALAD WITH SHIITAKES, FENNEL AND CASHEWS

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: This recipe calls for a wok. Quinoa is generally available at health food stores as well as at well-stocked supermarkets, including Whole Foods stores.

2 cups quinoa

1 quart water

Salt

1/4 cup peanut oil

5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

2 cups thinly sliced fennel (about 1 large bulb)

2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms

1 cup sliced green onions, both white and green parts (about 1 small bunch)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup toasted, salted cashews

4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1. Rinse the quinoa under cool running water, then drain well with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer (the grains are very small and will slip through a coarse strainer). Heat a wok over medium-high heat and toast the quinoa, shaking the pan frequently, just until the grains dry, are just beginning to color and have a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In a medium, lidded pot, bring 1 quart of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa with a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat the wok again over high heat. Add the peanut oil and heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir in the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds (the garlic can burn quickly). Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, keeping the oil in the pan, and set aside.

4. Add the fennel to the oil and fry, stirring or tossing frequently, until it is caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oil and set aside. Add the shiitakes to the oil and stir-fry until caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the green onions in with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry just until the green onions begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the mixture and stir or toss to combine, then remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, gently toss the quinoa with the warm shiitake-green onion mixture, the fennel, garlic, cashews, parsley, cilantro, lime zest and juice. Season to taste with additional salt if desired and serve immediately.

Each of 6 servings: 497 calories; 17 grams protein; 65 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 18 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 273 mg. sodium.

SCARLET QUINOA SALAD

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling time for the quinoa

Servings: 6

Note: Umeboshi (plum) vinegar can be found at Whole Foods markets and Asian markets.

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

2 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons dill pickle juice

1 tablespoon best-quality olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, pickle juice and olive oil. Cover and refrigerate until needed. This makes one-fourth cup dressing.

Scarlet quinoa and salad assembly

1 cup quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced red beets

2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup diced Japanese or Persian cucumber

2 teaspoons chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped dill

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

Salt

1. Wash the quinoa under cold running water in a fine strainer. Drain well.

2. In a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the beets, vegetable broth, olive oil and lemon juice. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the quinoa, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, about 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat and drain any remaining liquid.

3. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate the grains, uncovered, until cool.

4. Fluff the cooled grains and place them in a large bowl. Gently stir in the cucumber, chives, dill and lemon zest. Stir in half of the dressing, then taste the salad and add additional dressing or salt as desired.

Each serving: 146 calories; 4 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 220 mg. sodium.

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You can find Noelle Carter on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest. Email Noelle at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

 

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