Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mediterranean Toasted Quinoa Salad ~ Chickpeas, Roasted Red Peppers & Fresh Herbs

A Mediterranean salad that hits all the right flavors and textures is always welcome around here. This one is crunchy, creamy, toasty, tangy and bright. Lemony salads are wonderful year round. I particularly love them in winter, when most of us long for something lively, fresh and green. While tomatoes are tasteless in winter, red bell peppers, lemons and cucumbers are usually fine. Herbs seem to always be available on my supermarket shelves too.

Besides quinoa, there are endless varieties of whole grains you can toss into this salad. I provide the cooking instructions for my favorite ancient grains. This salad is full of vitamins, antioxidants, essential amino acids, protein and fiber. It's cheerful and satisfying...anything but boring.          

Mediterranean Toasted Quinoa Salad Recipe 

Some Notes:

This crisp salad makes a nice lunch or light dinner with warm pita, some crumbled feta and briny olives. A sprinkling of crunchy sea salt and toasted nuts on the top is a good idea too. One reader said that he tosses avocado into it.

The smoky and toasty flavors of the roasted peppers and quinoa play against the tang of the lemon, the freshness of the herbs, the crunch of the cucumbers and the creaminess of the beans. Toasting the quinoa before cooking it brings out its nuttiness and enhances its flavor. Toasted quinoa is a good thing.

Quinoa is gluten free and high in protein, giving the salad more nutritional value. You can swap the quinoa for bulgur wheat or freekeh. Both bulgar wheat and freekeh are also ancient grains that have been consumed in the Middle East for millennia. Westerners have caught on to quinoa. I'm hoping everyone will eventually catch on to bulgur wheat and freekeh. Bulgur wheat is a nutritional powerhouse. It's extremely easy to prepare and delicious in this salad. Freekeh is comparable to quinoa in ease of preparation, protein and fiber content. It has a nutty taste and a pleasantly chewy texture. Cooking instructions for all three whole grains are provided below.  

If chickpeas aren't your thing, swap them for white beans. For that matter, most fresh herbs will work here, such as basil or tarragon. Instead of roasting your own peppers, pick up a jar of them to use in this recipe. I love real roasted peppers so much more than the jarred kind, though. Scallions are less harsh than onions, I prefer them in my chopped salads.

Makes a large bowl full

For This Recipe You'll Need:
  • 6 small cucumbers, chopped into small pieces. I use seedless Persian cucumbers. 
  • 6-8 scallions, diced
  • 3 red bell peppers, sliced in half and seeded
  • 1-2 lemons
  • A large handful of dill, chopped
  • A large handful of mint, chopped
  • A large handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, patted with a paper towel
  • Drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa or bulgur wheat or freekeh (see notes)
  • Serving Suggestions: toasted pine nuts or almonds, avocado, pita bread, baguette, lemon wedges, drizzle of olive oil, flaky sea salt, grey celtic salt, crumbled feta, olives

Instructions For Cooking The Grains: 

Toasted Quinoa: Rinse one cup of quinoa. 

In a small pot, over medium heat, toast the rinsed quinoa in a little olive oil until it's fragrant and starts to make a crackling sound, about 3-5 minutes. Carefully add two cups of water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is done. Toss 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and set aside.

Bulgur Wheat: Take a 1/2 cup of fine bulgur wheat and put it in a bowl. Pour one cup of very hot water over it. Let it stand until the water is fully absorbed. Once the water has been absorbed, take 1 1/2 cups of cooked bulgur and toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside. You can store the rest of the unused bulgur in an airtight container. Serve instead of rice, stir it into soups or use it in meatballs or meatloaf.

Freekeh: In a small pot, combine one cup of freekeh with 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 25 minutes. Toss 1 1/2 cups of the cooked freekeh with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside. You can store the unused freekeh in an airtight container for a few days. Use in soups and salads as you would quinoa or brown rice. You can find freekeh online at: or at select natural food stores and supermarkets like Wegmans and Whole Foods.

Salad Instructions:

Make the toasted quinoa, bulgur wheat or freekeh and set aside.

Roast the peppers by placing the sliced peppers, cut side down, on an oven safe baking sheet lined with tin foil. Broil on high until their skins are charred and blackened. Remove from the oven, place the peppers in a covered bowl or wrap in more tin foil to steam. Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin and discard. Chop and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, scallions, roasted red peppers, mint, dill, parsley, rinsed and drained chickpeas, drizzle of honey, salt and pepper. Add a couple of good drizzles of olive oil and a squeeze or two from a juicy lemon. Toss and taste. Adjust salt, lemon and olive oil. Stir in either the cooked bulgur, the cooked quinoa or the cooked freekeh. Taste again to adjust seasonings. Serve with suggestions and enjoy.        

More Recipes From Jilly:

Broccoli Cheddar Jalapeno Quinoa Fritters

Chickpea, Tomato & Potato Stew with Toasted Quinoa

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Sweet Corn, Beans & Basil

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