Rainbow quinoa and pear salad with walnuts, chives, and balsamic vinegar is a quick and flavorful protein-packed, plant-based side dish or grab and grub lunch.
This is the recipe for anyone who’s opened the fridge and wondered (maybe even aloud), "what didn't I plan something for lunch?"
You know this story. You’ve lived it too. There’s a bit of grumbling, a consideration of the quickest meal possible you might make. More grumbling when you discover there isn’t even a piece of bread in the house, let alone something in a store wrapper. How did we let this happen – again?
So here we are: If you’re gonna eat, you’re gonna need to cook.
And if we’re gonna cook, let’s make it something that will see us through the day (and beyond). Let’s make it taste better and be healthier than anything that comes out of a wrapper or carton.
It’s like music: ‘6-ingredients, 5 minutes of prep, and 20 minutes of cooking time’. That’s all you’ll need. I’ll even give you a few handy substitutions if you don’t have precisely those 6.
There are three main ingredients that you’ll need for this salad – quinoa, pears (2), and Balsamic vinegar.
Quinoa is kind of the quint-essential vegan friend. I jazzed this up with rainbow quinoa, also known as tri-colored, or quinoa blend.
The Whole Grains Council (yes, there’s that) call quinoa the 'gateway' ancient grain. I prefer that label rather than the 'sandal-wearing, bead toting, meditation' judgments I used to get when I asked about it in various supermarkets about a decade ago. It’s a bit unfair given I reserve my beads for Mardi Gras and try never to meditate in public.
Fast forward because quinoa is definitely mainstream. Once the world discovered that quinoa was a gluten-free super source of protein and fiber, demand became pervasive. So high, in fact, that it’s no longer left to the Peruvian farmers to supply the quinoa-hungry world.
To be fair, quinoa was a well-kept, if not unintended, secret for about 5000 years. Farmers around Lake Titicaca quietly grew it to feed their families. But, there's really no keeping a good thing down, and at least in my book, quinoa is a good, if not great thing.
I doubt if there was an original intent to develop a gluten-free superfood back then, but that’s where we are, and that's why it's so popular.
So what is quinoa exactly?
The reason why quinoa is always gluten-free is that unlike grains that are extracted from grasses, it comes from the quinoa plant. It gets lumped in the whole grain category because it is used interchangeably from a rice substitute or as flour, pasta, or cereal 'grain'. That's understandable. It usually sits on the shelf with the rice. You can also find it in the baking section as a flour, or with the cereal as flakes, and of course, there are those quinoa chips.
I get it. Quinoa is healthy for you. For around the same calories as rice, you get all your essential amino acids. That means you have a ready answer for that persistent question about 'where do you get your protein?' Seriously, can everyone stop worrying about my protein? No one cared about that when I was shoving bags of Doritos in my mouth in the dead of night.
What is rainbow quinoa?
There are three readily available colors of quinoa – white, red, and black. Put them together, and you now have rainbow quinoa. You can buy that as its own product, or you can make it by adding equal parts if you have the three kinds on hand. That’s how I follow the quinoa rainbow. It's also a great way to use up a little bit of this and that.
It’s that simple. So why bother?
Variety. It’s more than just different colors. Different colors of quinoa have different levels of flavor and chewy textures. White, the one we see and probably eat most often because it’s usually less expensive, is super mild and fluffs like rice. On the opposite end of the quinoa spectrum, black has an earthy flavor, is more crunchy-chewy, while the red is in the middle with a rich and slightly nutty flavor.
Tips for cooking rainbow quinoa
You’re going to cook rainbow just like you would the regular white stuff. That means first and foremost, no matter what – rinse it!
Quinoa protects itself with a natural coating known as saponin. That's what makes it taste bitter, soapy, and a bit strong. The quinoa you buy at the store is usually pre-rinsed. However, in 1 minute, you can rinse away any saponin that might have made it through the bag and any dust.
Whenever you cook quinoa, your first step is to dig out a colander with a small mesh (you’ll know why if you don’t and it’s running down the drain?) and then rinse it under the faucet.
Double to one
We’re cooking 1 cup of quinoa, and that means double the liquid. That’s the rule if you are cooking quinoa by itself. If you cook quinoa in the pot with other ingredients, you may need to add additional liquid. For example, Red beans and quinoa, Southwest beans and quinoa, Middle Eastern chickpeas and quinoa, or any of our other yummy quinoa recipes, you may need to adjust the liquid up by ½ a cup to account for the other ingredients. Choose easy, just follow our recipe instructions.
Onward with our rainbow quinoa for this easy salad. Add 2 cups of veggie broth (you could use plain old water) and 1 cup of rinsed quinoa. Just like cooking rice, bring the pot to a boil, then bring it to a simmer, cover the cooking pot, and let it cook until the liquid is absorbed (15 minutes).
Privacy for 5 minutes, please
When the liquid is absorbed, cut the heat and leave the pot covered for at least 5 minutes. This allows the quinoa to settle and helps it to get fluffy.
If you’ve never cooked red or black quinoa before, you might be surprised when you take off the lid that it’s not as fluffy as it is when you cook just white. That’s the variety part.
Got 20 minutes?
While the quinoa is cooking, you have 4 missions:
1. Wash and dice 2 pears. Remove the core and stems, but don’t peel them. We’ll take extra fiber any way we can.
2. Chop ¼ of a cup of walnuts.
3. Chop ¼ of a cup of chives (you can use green onions as a substitute).
4. Dig out your Balsamic vinegar.
Once your quinoa is done, it’s decision time: hot or cold?
That’s the salad, not your mood or your feelings about the Instagram photo you had time to look at while making this salad. We like this salad served warm, so when the quinoa is done, I just toss it into the bowl, then add the pears, walnuts, chives, and the Balsamic. Proceed to the eating part.
If you plan to serve this as a cold salad or at room temperature, then you’ll want to cool your quinoa. It’s quickest to transfer it to your salad bowl and toss it a bit. Once it stops steaming and has cooled a bit, you can put it in the fridge to accelerate the process.
Mix the rest of the salad ingredients in as soon as the quinoa is the temperature you want it. You can then either serve it or put it back in the fridge, tightly covered, and serve it whenever. It will keep until the next day without incident - except the snacking part, I can’t predict that.
If the idea of fruit and Balsamic seems a bit weird – don’t knock it until you’ve given it a try. If you’re a newcomer to quinoa, here's a place to start with, hopefully, a side of motivation. Quinoa is mainstream at the supermarket now. No one will think you’re a hippy (unless that’s your jam, which is all good too).
When it comes to nutrition and just plain good stuff to enjoy eating, quinoa is bags above the mainstream. That’s why another new quinoa salad is always something to celebrate. Variety, my friends, it’s more than the spice of life. Besides, I’d rather be a little weird than boring. Never boring. Peace.Print