Kitchen Sink Quinoa Salad

Image of Kitchen Sink Quinoa SaladLet’s face it, we’re all spoiled by grab-and-go convenience foods. When the hunger beast rears its angry head, we walk into the kitchen, stare blankly into the brimming refrigerator, and, seeing only ingredients, conclude that there’s nothing to eat. Au contraire, my friends! There is just nothing ready to eat. I know what you’re thinking. “What am I supposed to do? Gnaw on a leaf of Swiss chard?” Well, yes and no. See, when we’re faced with a barrage of ingredients, its often hard to envision what the end product is, so our brain overloads with either the excess or absence of options, and we give up and either go hungry, eat something convenient and pre-made, or go buy something prepared. However, with some practice, we can start to see those items filling the corners of our fridges and pantries as vibrant parts of a delicious whole. The best place to start is to find some foundation on which to build a dish, and then go from there.

Today’s blank canvas is quinoa (KEEN-wah), a magical little grain in a tiny snail-shaped dot. (Actually, it’s technically a seed because it’s not from a grass, but rather from a plant closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Really, tumbleweeds! Just another reason to love quinoa. However, we treat it as a grain in cooking.) For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa or previously tentative about trying it, welcome to a new taste sensation. It has a nutty flavor and toothsome mouth-feel, and can be used a lot like rice or small pasta (think orzo or couscous), but it’s incredibly good for you (high in protein and gluten free) and simple to prepare. You can find it in packages near the rice and pasta in your market, or in the bulk section, which is the more economical option. I buy it in bulk and store it in a big glass jar. The easiest way to prepare it is to boil it in water or broth (2 parts liquid, 1 part quinoa) until the water is absorbed (about 12-14 minutes), fluff and serve. Instant side dish. From there you can get more sophisticated and make pilafs, salads, stuffings, etc. It’s also really tasty added to soup or hot breakfast cereal. (Fun fact: quinoa is currently being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights because of all its nifty convenient and nutritious characteristics. Space grain! Definitely ups its cool factor.)

When I walked up to my fridge today after an insistent belly grumble, I opened it and was struck by the bounty of the past weekend’s farmers market haul crying out to me to be eaten. A little overwhelmed with all the noise coming from the snap peas, arugula, leeks, Swiss chard, bok choi, and green garlic, here is where I had that thought, “Well, what do I do with it all?” I closed the refrigerator so I could have a moment’s peace to think. There on the counter gleamed my glass mason jar – quinoa to the rescue. So I opened the fridge once again and dove in, pulling out everything I could find that struck me as a) delicious and b) good for a crunchy bite in quinoa salad. This was the result:

Image of Kitchen Dive Expedition Haul

I surfaced with scallions, radishes, parsley, carrots, half a tomato, curly parsley, cotija (a type of Mexican cheese, a lot like feta), capers (they didn’t make the shot, sorry) and the aforementioned noisy snap peas. Now here’s the most important part of this recipe: do not, by any means, follow this recipe. If, by some crazy coincidence, you happen to have all of these ingredients in your larder and you want to make an exact replica of my salad, by all means, go ahead. But the point of this recipe is to guide you and give you license to make a really awesome salad from what YOU have in YOUR refrigerator and pantry, not what I have in MY refrigerator and pantry. If you come up from your fridge-diving expedition with leftover sweet potatoes, a half a cucumber, garbanzo beans, a pint of cherry tomatoes, edamame, roast chicken, and a handful of almonds, that’s its own jackpot. We work with what we’ve got. It’s a beautiful thing. Here I present to you what I tossed together – not as a specimen to be recreated, but as a study in how odds and ends can blend to become a delicious whole. And, more importantly, as an exercise in trusting your taste buds to guide you to a satisfying end.

If you’re feeling bold, take license to fool around with the dressing component as well. Hate curry? Nix it and replace with a different flavor! Love garlic? Crush a clove into the dressing mix. Bump up the heat with extra hot sauce. Go for it. Get saucy.

This dish can be enjoyed on its own as a light lunch (depending on what you add to it), or as a side for a heartier meal, say, with something grilled and a pile of greens. It’s also one of those magic dishes that is even better the day after, once the flavors have had a chance to meld, mellow, and sink into the ingredients. Prep time is fast, though you do need to leave some time for the quinoa to cool.

Reminder: here in Can Do Kitchen, t=teaspoon, T=tablespoon, and c=cup.


  1. Deirdre says:

    There I am looking into the fridge many lovely, healthy ingredients staring me in the face and several hungry bellies eager to be filled staring at my back. My issue is the amt of chopping required. If possible, I put some children to work. Sometimes the amt of chopping is overwhelming due to the amt of time I have before dinner time. I will try your dressing, however not with quinoa since my husband is extremely allergic to it. I love the ease and quickness of quinoa. Other grains (except couscous if you call that a grain) take a lot longer to cook.

  2. Audrey says:

    Kids are definitely good for chopping. I mean, as chopping assistants, don’t chop up your kids. ANYway, as for the quinoa allergy, have you ever tried working with buckwheat groats? They’re mighty tasty and don’t take any longer to cook than quinoa, in my experience. Also healthy and gluten free. I dry-toast them in a pan for about 5 minutes, then add hot water and salt (or broth), bring to a boil, and simmer 10-12 minutes. Fluff with a fork at the end. Oh, and the ratio is 1 part buckwheat to 1.5 parts liquid. Try it!

  3. Robert says:

    I made this a couple of nights ago:

    I recommend you give it a shot if you haven’t already. The hot sauce butter will be used again in the future on other projects, for sure.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Thanks so much for this! I definitely depend way too much on rice and pasta and need help branching out. I am going out to stock my pantry with quinoa immediately! I like the idea of storing it in a jar. Also, I am so glad to discover there is yet another good use for hot sauce.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I’m with Kathryn; I’m definitely buying some quinoa the next time I’m at the grocery store. For me, this sounds like a great thing to have around when I look in the fridge and think, “Oh no! I have all this produce that will go bad if I don’t use it today, but I don’t know what to do…” Now I know exactly what to do!

  6. Becca says:

    I *heart* quinoa! You can throw anything in it, eat it cold or hot, and it’s always delish!


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