My friend Francy came to lunch last week. She and I started teaching at our school together, four years ago. We mourned the end of summer with this quinoa salad. It was the perfect lunch to enjoy with my friend on a hot day in late August. It’s the perfect salad to package up into little containers and take for lunch now that school has actually begun.
The salad tastes of summer, with hints of coconut and splashes of lime and gentle spice. It’s a snap to put together and is best eaten chilled, with a drizzle of this salsa over the top of it.
The inspiration for this salad came from a salad eaten in New Orleans at Carmo, a tropical cafe near the Convention Center. Jason and I took nine kids there for lunch; it was a hot and humid day and I was worried if all the kids would like what the restaurant had to offer. Turned out they all loved it. We loved it, too. We split a quinoa salad and a fresh tuna sandwich. And then I came home and figured out a way to bring this salad’s tropical freshness with me.
I know that quinoa can be a bit scary. But, don’t be frightened off; I am not the world’s biggest quinoa fan, but the quinoa here takes on a toasty, golden flavor from the coconut oil and the texture is nicely matched by all the little gems that join it in the bowl. This salad makes me like quinoa. I hope it will do the same for you.
2 tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tbs. coconut oil
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup feta or cojita cheese, crumbled (leave out for a vegan salad)
¼ cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
4 cups mixed greens
1 avocado, cubed
juice of 2 limes
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tbs. coconut oil
1 tsp. chili paste
Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add quinoa. Stir to coat and allow quinoa to toast, around 5-7 minutes, until it smells fragrant and nutty. Once toasted, add 1 3/4 cups of water to the pot, stir once, bring to a gentle boil, then cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover and fluff with a fork.
While quinoa toasts, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until fragrant and translucent, around 5 minutes, then add garlic and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Stir often.
While quinoa simmers and onions saute, prepare all other ingredients. Prepare dressing by combining ingredients in a medium jar. Shake to thoroughly combine. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary.
Combine all ingredients except lettuce and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. Line individual bowls with a cup of lettuce, then top with quinoa mixture. Sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds and serve with a small bowl of homemade salsa for drizzling.