If you haven't yet joined the quinoa qlub (sorry), here's what you need to know: quinoa is a gluten-free grain that makes a great substitute for couscous, bulgur, or even rice. It's a bit denser and takes longer to cook than couscous; sizewise, it's bigger than the cous cous grain but smaller than the wheatberry. Most importantly, it's pronounced "KEEN-wah," and if you call it "kwin-OH-uh," as I once did, you might look stupid in certain circles. Here's what you don't need to know, but which may at some point in your lifetime prove useful in trivia: it originally hails from the Andes and it's one of the more famous siblings in a family of flowering plants known as the Goosefoots (goosefeet?).
This quinoa "recipe" is quickly becoming a national phenomenon since its accidental inception in San Francisco. Okay, "phenomenon" may be a smidge hyperbolic, but its lore has indeed traveled from coast to coast. Here's how I became acquainted with the very economical culinary marvel known as "Seth Quinoa Salad":
My friend Rachel B. (pictured at right!), whose boyfriend is the Seth of the dish's name, was visiting from California before setting off for Spain. We decided to make dinner at my house and, over the phone, rattled off the ingredients we both could contribute. I had a variety of canned beans, grains, a couple different cheeses, some trail mix, an aging zucchini, and a few other vegetables that had seen better days. Rachel had some tomatoes, avocadoes, peppers, and I think a couple other things (it doesn't matter what they were -- that's the beauty of Seth Quinoa Salad!). What could we do with these items, many of which were about to turn? (Truth be told, some of them already had turned, but the true Economical Epicurean has a stomach of steel and believes that "sell by" dates are for sissies.)
"The spirit of Seth Quinoa Salad," Rachel explained, is a commitment to using up whatever's languishing in the refrigerator or ripening on the windowsill. Somehow, the quinoa unifies all these disparate ingredients. In our case, we didn't even use quinoa, but whole wheat couscous (no sense in going to the store when the cabinet's already stocked with a perfectly good grain). I do think, though, that quinoa is better suited here; couscous grains are so tiny and delicate that they seemed a bit overwhelmed by the motley assortment of veg, cheese, and nuts.
Anti-recipe: Seth Quinoa Salad
-1 cup of dried quinoa, cooked according to package instructions (may substitute bulgur, couscous, or rice)
-A bizarre assortment of leftovers: diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, diced peppers, diced zucchini or other squash, really any vegetable, any herbs, any cheese (especially blue), any nuts, any dried fruit (trail mix was a particularly intelligent choice here, if I do say so myself). You could also go crazy with some grilled chicken, hardboiled eggs, or old bread made into croutons.
-Any beans - we used chickpeas. I want to stress that this component is very optional, since the whole point of SQS is to use up old stuff, and beans don't exactly go bad if still dry or in the can. Ideally, you cooked half a can of beans the night before and now have the rest standing by in the frigerator, eager to be eaten.
-An easy and cheap dressing: my favorite contains two parts olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar, and one part fruit preserves (can be any kind, but strawberry's extra good here), and salt and pepper. Rachel and I got jazzy this time and pestled together some olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and I think some kind of herb and some maple syrup. Really doesn't matter, as Casper will tell you.
"Heavens!" Casper exclaims. "Already 3 days old, and this Seth Quinoa Salad is still green as ever! Truly, it keeps nearly as well as Tender Vittles. Oh, ho -- if only!"
Other uses of quinoa:
Try it in lieu of couscous in my recipes for Sprightly Spring Couscous and Couscous with Personality!