Quinoa is the new black. It is the darling ingredient of the hour, the what's-old-is-new favorite of foodies everywhere. Ancient in its roots, quinoa has become today's "it" grain.
I'm a fan. For years, I've loved quinoa's nutty flavor and crunchy, caviar-like texture. It's versatile, flavorful and easy -- easier, in my opinion, even than rice. It's a natural for salads, and I drew inspiration from several of my favorite bloggers:
- Tea discovered she likes quinoa, much to her chagrin, reveling in a red quinoa salad.
- Healthy grain advocate Heidi's lemon-scented quinoa salad is just one excellent preparation.
- Ilva gives it an Italian twist with radishes, ginger, pine nuts and balsamic.
- Clotilde continues the Mediterranean theme with red peppers and pine nuts.
- Catherine, writing at Bay Area Bites, hit closest to home for me with cucumber, tomato and mint.
I was also working off a salad I get occasionally from the take-away counter at Piperade, with shrimp, cucumber and herbs, with a lime dressing. The dish is well-intentioned and often flavorful, but all too often the shrimp are tough and it is overdressed and sloppy. I knew I could do better.
I wanted the combination of shrimp and cucumber to bring color and contrast to the dish, mango for gentle sweetness, just enough heat to tickle the palate, and lime and mint for a refreshing finish.
Finally, I chose red quinoa, which I have never used before. I love it. I'm not sure whether it genuinely has a nuttier flavor than its paler cousin, or whether the color simply has power of suggestion, but I thought it had a pronounced flavor that stood up well to the other players in the dish. (Like the other variety, though, you must rinse it before cooking, as all quinoa is naturally coated with a substance called saponin, which can taste bitter.)
For all its deceptive simplicity, this salad is satisfyingly complex. It's got sweet, sour, salty and hot. It's got crunch and chew. It's got earthy nuttiness and herbal freshness. It's got it all.
Quinoa salad with shrimp, cucumber, mango and mint
2 c. quinoa
4 c. chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
1 lb. shrimp, shelled and veined
1 English cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 small red onion
1 jalapeño pepper
bunch of mint
juice of three limes
good olive oil
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
Rinse the quinoa well, washing off the outer layer of saponin; let drain. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the shrimp and cook until pink but still tender, just a few minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp; if anything, pull them when they are still just a bit translucent, and they will finish from their own heat. Set shrimp aside to cool. Bring the stock back to the boil. Add the quinoa, bring back to the boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about ten minutes. Take off heat and rest, then turn out into a bowl or plate to cool.
Have a large bowl at the ready. Cut the cucumber and mango into 1/2" dice, cut the shrimp down into 1/2" pieces and add it all to the bowl. Remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeño and mince finely, and add to the bowl. Finely mince the red onion, and into the bowl with it. Add the quinoa and toss everything well together. Be sure to toss or fold, not stir vigorously; you don't want to break up the lovely grains of quinoa.
In a small container, combine the lime juice, several shakes of Tabasco, salt, pepper, sugar and a drizzle of olive oil and whisk together to combine. Taste and reseason as necessary.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and fold to mix in. Start with about half, and add as necessary, tasting as you go. You want the result to be moist and flavorful, but not soupy.
Coarsely chop the mint, add to salad and toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour, up to several hours. Serve chilled or just under room temperature.