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Monday, May 23, 2011

Quinoa with Fresh Peas, Cucumber, Mint & Feta

Five years ago, quinoa was relatively unknown outside of health food stores and the Andean region of South America. Today it is available in virtually every supermarket, and for good reason. Due to its balanced set of essential amino acids, is an unusually complete protein source, especially among plant species. It is a wonderful food choice for vegetarians or people like me who are trying to cut back on their animal product consumption. And this little grain does not lack in the flavor department either. It has a mild, nutty taste and, when seasoned well, is downright delicious. I have recently been substituting quinoa for pasta and rice in many of my favorite dishes, but my favorite way to prepare quinoa is in a salad. During the colder months, I toss it with nuts, dried fruit and hardy herbed vinaigrettes (such as my Quinoa Salad with Apples, Cranberries & Rosemary Vinaigrette), but during these oh-so-glorious spring months, I replace hardier ingredients with fresh, sweet, and of course seasonal, ingredients.

The credit for this particular combination of ingredients goes to my mom, Cheryl. She called me last week and told me "you are going to love this salad I just made". So of course I made it two nights later, and (not surprisingly, since my mom has great culinary taste) it was lovely. The sweetness of the fresh peas, the saltiness of the feta, the crunch of the cucumber and the brightness of the fresh mint paired just perfectly together. Dressed with a bit of fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and enjoyed with a glass of dry rose and your have yourself a fabulous springtime meal.

Since quinoa is a complete protein this salad really doesn't need anything else, but if you are feeling indulgent, top with this with a few seared wild shrimp or scallops. Or, since it is served at room temperature and can be prepared ahead of time, it would be a great side dish to bring it with you this weekend to a Memorial Day barbeque. Make way, pasta salad!

Quinoa with Fresh Peas, Cucumber, Mint & Feta

serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

1 c. quinoa
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 c. fresh peas, shelled
1/2 of a large cucumber, diced
2/3 c. fresh feta
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Rinse the quinoa well to remove the waxy coating (saponin). Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa and toast for about 1 minute, stirring to make sure all the grains are coated in oil. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 13 minutes.

After the quinoa has cooked, fluff with a fork and transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, cook peas for about 30 to 60 seconds, and then drain and set aside. I know it seems like far too little time, but they cook quickly and there is nothing appealing about a mushy pea (outside of a British pub, that is).

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Toss the quinoa in the dressing and then gently fold in the peas, diced cucumber, mint and feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

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