Monday, August 26, 2013

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Usually when I tell people that I like to cook healthy food, the first thing they ask is for ways to cook quinoa (pronounced keen-wa).  Common complaints are that it is soggy or that their husbands won't eat it.  My first suggestion for non-lovers of quinoa is to eat it cold, in salads, instead of hot and as a substitute for rice.  If you want to make your rice dishes healthier, use brown rice or wheat berries.  When quinoa is cold, it has a better texture and is not soggy.  Also, it tends to be a feature of the salad instead of the focus.  The reason that so many people are interested in eating quinoa is because it is the new fad food of the health world, even though it has been eaten by people in South America for thousands of years.  It is called the "mother grain" (even though it is actually a seed) because it provides all the necessary amino acids to make a complete protein.

On another note, I received a request from my sister-in-law to make something that contains Japanese long eggplant.  She is lucky enough to live in Los Angeles and grow fresh produce in her garden year round.  Apparently at the moment, she has a glut of these in her garden and needs inspiration.  Many of us in the northern parts are dealing with a similar predicament with zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Luckily for everyone, this recipe includes both of those vegetables as well as a couple of other gems from your summer garden.

This salad will serve at least three as a main course or six as a side.  It also saves really well, so you will be able to eat it for lunch the next day, too.


1/2 cup of quinoa
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 medium zucchini
1 eggplant (Japanese or regular)
1 Tbsp Italian dried mixed herbs
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup feta cheese
Half an avocado
5 Kalamata olives, pitted
5 medium leaves of fresh basil


1. I do not cook quinoa the way most people do.  Most people cook it like rice, but I find that makes it soggy.  Instead, I cook it kind of like pasta.  Put 1/2 cup of quinoa in a medium-sized pot with a pinch of salt and a bunch of water.  Bring the water to a boil, and then immediately lower it to a gentle simmer.  Simmer the quinoa for about 10 - 15 minutes until the little "tails" start to uncurl.  You will know it when you see it.  Taste the quinoa to make sure that it is not hard.  When it has finished cooking, drain it and transfer it to a large salad bowl.  Mix in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread the quinoa up the sides of the bowl so that it has more surface area to cool down.  This way, the excess moisture will evaporate away.  If you run it under cold water to cool it, it will end up soggy.

2. Cut the zucchini and the eggplant lengthwise into quarters and then slice into crescents.  If you are using regular eggplant, I usually don't use the very seedy part as it can be bitter and it gets soggy (apparently the goal of the day is to avoid sogginess!).  If you are using a Japanese eggplant, you can use the whole thing.  Sauté both in 1 Tbsp of olive oil with the Italian herbs and salt and pepper until they lose their crispiness - about 8 minutes.

3. Remove the zucchini/eggplant from the heat and add 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar to the pan.  Let cool.

4. At this point, you can cut the tomatoes in half, crumble the feta cheese, cut the avocado, dice the olives, and chiffonade (cut) the basil.  To cut the avocado, run your knife around pit lengthwise and then twist both halves to separate them, just like you would a peach.  Save the half that has the pit in it in the fridge for another use (leave the pit in to prevent browning).  Cut the remaining half in half again and then peel the skin away.  If the skin does not peel easily, it is probably not ripe enough, although occassionally you will get one that just has thick brittle skin.

5. Add the cooled zucchini/eggplant to the bowl with the quinoa.

6. Top with the tomatoes and the feta.

7. Add the avocado cubes and the olive pieces.

8. Sprinkle the fresh basil on top.

9. Serve with additional balsamic vinegar, if necessary.  Enjoy!


1. The first time I made this salad, I did not include avocado.  Then, Scott decided that he wanted to cut dairy out of his diet, so he suggested adding avocado instead of the feta.  Quite honestly, I thought it wouldn't work, but it did.  Then, he decided that he wasn't cutting dairy out of his diet anymore, so we started to include both feta and avocado in the salad.  It's up to you.  Same with any other ingredient - if you don't like olives, leave them out!

2. You can add white beans or cubes of chicken to make this a more substantial meal.

3. You can serve this salad over lettuce greens for even more nutrition (I usually do).

4. You can serve this hot or cold.  If you serve it hot (maybe with chicken), just throw everything together before the quinoa and zucchini/eggplant cool.  You might not want to add the avocado if you are serving it hot.  You can always add the avocado the next day when you eat the leftovers cold.

5. You can make this in advance.  If you are making it in advance, put everything together except the tomatoes and the avocado - add them at the last minute.


1. With the leftover avocado, you can add it to another salad, or you can make avocado toast: whole wheat toast, mayo, avocado, salt, and pepper - yum.  If you don't eat mayo, leave it out.

Shopping Tips:

1. When selecting an avocado, you want to pick one that is just a bit soft, like a peach.  If they are all hard as a rock, you will have to leave it on the counter for a few days to ripen.  The really hard ones can take 5 days.  Usually, they will ripen in two to three.

2. When picking an eggplant, make sure that it is firm and not soft.  If you are using a regular eggplant, the smaller ones have fewer seeds.  Also, the ones that are longer have fewer seeds.  The ones that are fat have more seeds.  If you get an older eggplant with more seeds, you can just cut them out, or you can get rid of the bitterness by cutting the eggplant in half, liberally salting each cut side, leaving the eggplant at room temperature for 30 minutes, and then rinsing the juice and seeds away.  You will then have to dry it with a paper towel.  Honestly, I have never needed to do this.  I just don't use the seedy part because I usually have more than enough eggplant for this recipe.

3. Quinoa can be white, red, or black.  It doesn't matter which one you use. However, some are pre-washed and some are not.  If you buy in bulk or the package does not say "pre-washed", make sure you rinse the quinoa thoroughly before using.  It is covered with natural saponin (which tastes like soap) so that the plant can protect itself from pests.

Whether you are getting your ingredients from your garden, the farmers market, or the grocery store, this salad is a great way to make the most of your seasonal produce!


  1. This one's a little more involved but... lucky me!!! We'll be together again this weekend! (I'll buy the groceries!) lol

  2. I've just cut and pasted all the ingredient lists onto a page that I can print out and carry along to the grocery store. It occurs to me now that I need to stock my cupboards with some "Shannon cooking" basics... I'll start with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, but wonder about honey, white wine vinegar, Italian dried mixed herbs... are these all ingredients that you use often? What others do you recommend having on hand all the time?

  3. Dear Shannon's Mom,
    Yes, these are ingredients that I use often. I am trying to write these posts in an order that will allow you to slowly stock your pantry with useful ingredients without having to purchase too many at one time. For that reason, you might want to buy a larger size so that you have better cost savings as well as some to spare for future recipes. Balsamic, white wine vinegar, and olive oil can always be used on any green salad as a dressing. Honey helps to cut the vinegar in the dressing. Italian herbs can be used with several vegetables and in pasta dishes.

  4. YUM!! Thanks! Not only do I have a pile of eggplant, our garden is overflowing with zucchini too!