I came late to the quinoa love-fest. Technically, this high-protein, high-fiber, gluten-free superfood from the Andes is not a grain, although it acts like one in the kitchen. When I was a UCSC farm and garden apprentice, we made a lot of quinoa pancakes (not bad) and quinoa tabbouleh (surprisingly good). But too many times, I've had it served plain as plain and here, I must tell you: Quinoa, You're No Rice. Sad to say, you're not even couscous. To me, unadorned quinoa tastes like it came out the wrong end of the flavor-extraction machine, pleasantly fluffy but free of taste.
So, the trick with quinoa is to treat it like tofu: as a nice, neutral backdrop just aching to become a Jackson Pollack. In other words, throw a lot of big, bright stuff at it, and you'll get something worth eating. Unlike, say, pasta, which gets exponentially tastier the more cheese, sausage, and cream you toss into it, quinoa's best partners are stubbornly healthy.
Which brings us to that staple of Bay Area life, the potluck. And especially, the potluck with the vegan/vegetarians, half of whom have recently gone gluten-free. I've already given out my potato-salad tips, which could be adapted to use a vegan egg-free mayonnaise like Nayonaise, or the tofu version in Mollie Katzen's Still Life with Menu.
The tininess and cool purplish color of cooked adzuki beans work well with the colors and general small scale of everything in this salad, but you could, if pressed, use another small bean from your Mason-jar arsenal. If at all possible, soak and cook the beans yourself; canned beans are really too mushy to make a decent showing in any salad.
But who am I kidding? You're already looking at those half-dozen cans of organic black beans in your pantry and thinking, "Burn through gas and raise my blood pressure angling for a parking spot at Berkeley Bowl just to get a half cup of some weird bitty bean? Not a chance!" Okay, sister, I hear you. But at least drain and rinse those beans really, really well to get all the slimy can-muck off. (And by the way, if you've ever had a moon cake stuffed with red-bean paste, you've had adzuki beans; in Asia, where this bean originated, its nutty-sweet flavor is highly prized for use in desserts and other sweets.)
This recipe is a mash-up of inspiration from two different recipes, Tangerine Quinoa Pilaf from The Sunset Cookbook and Curried Couscous Salad in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. A small amount of beans and quinoa turns into a satisfyingly generous (and protein-rich) amount of salad, and it can easily be made a day or two in advance. If your favorite farmers' market vendor has carrots in groovy colors like purple and burgundy, by all means buy them instead of the usual orange ones. You'll lose a lot of the color if you peel, so just wash well and dice.
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour soak time for the beans
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: 4 cups
- 1/2 cup adzuki beans, soaked in hot water to cover for 1 hour
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 1 1/4 cup water
- generous pinch of salt
- grated rind and juice of 1 tangerine (or orange)
- 1 tsp curry powder or garam masala
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp raisins, currants, or dried cranberries
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 scallions, minced
- 2 tbsp minced parsley
- 1/4 cup lightly toasted almonds (sliced or slivered) or pine nuts
- In a medium saucepan, cover adzuki beans with several inches of water and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat until tender, about 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside. (Beans can be cooked a day ahead.)
- While beans are cooking, bring water, half the tangerine juice, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently until quinoa is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Fluff up the quinoa with a fork. Scoop it into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, remaining tangerine juice, curry powder, olive oil and salt to taste. Drizzle over quinoa, tossing gently. Add adzuki beans, tangerine zest, raisins, carrots, scallions, and parsley. Taste for seasoning