Spring has sprung, and besides eagerly awaiting the day when I can finally go swimming again, I am highly anticipating summer foods. And summer foods mean picnics. When I was a kid, we used to make annual trips to a beach about sixty miles south of where I grew up. That beach was a haven for me, one of the few places I could swim and really be a kid. Who doesn’t remember building sand castles for hours in the hot, dusty sand, surrounding piles of the goopy stuff with moats and little stick flags? Who didn’t dance down to the water’s edge on sock-sensitive feet, wading past the shallow surf thick with seaweed and children’s urine to the deeper, cooler water where the fish would bite? My favorite summer memories are by the water. My father would pull me around the lake’s surface by my arms and make a motorboat noise. My parents, my younger brother, my grandparents, my aunt, we sat on a picnic blanket wet from our bathing suits and gritty with our sand and munched out of a bright red cooler. Sandwiches, little green grapes, Tupperwared salads, cold cans of Brisk, and any number of items would be pulled from the cooler and passed around–not to mention chips, crackers, and big jugs of water from beach bags. I don’t know what it is about being at the beach, but no matter how much food you pack, you are always hungrier when you leave than when you got there.
Preferred on my informal list of summery foods are salads, and my mother makes ’em like no one else: pasta salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, green salad, white salad, chicken salad…The list goes on and on, and each one is unique. But there is something about my mother’s pasta salad that is just spot-on. I think it is the way it mimics an antipasto, the cured meat mixed with cheese and veggies and drizzled in the traditional Italian fashion. For years, I have been patiently picking black olives out of the salad so I can enjoy the salty and tangy noodles that swim in cheese, pepperoni, and tomatoes. For a spin, my mother told me about how she began preparing quinoa like she does her pasta salad, and I knew I had to try it. With spring in the air, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
What is quinoa, you might ask–and how do I pronounce it? Quinoa, or keen-wah, is a grain that is so nutritionally complete that you simply cannot live without it once you’ve tried it. If you’re like me and you’re hungry 2 hours after a bowl of cereal, looking for an alternative to pasta when you’ve eaten it 4 times in a week, or trying vegetarian/vegan alternatives without sacrificing protein, this grain is for you. Cooked much like rice, quinoa has a much nuttier flavor and is absolutely delicious prepared like oatmeal, cold salads, tabouli, or even rice pudding. This cold quinoa salad was a total success, and was so quick! It paired nicely with steaming roasted asparagus and some Italian bread with butter. I leave out olives, but pasta salad is delicious with olives, and the great thing is that it can be made vegetarian or vegan by subbing pepperoni for tofu and/or cheese for soy cheese. Really, this quinoa antipasto salad is about your tastes; my partner wants me to include pepperoncini peppers next time. I will never look longingly at pasta salad at the deli counter again, even if I’m starving. 🙂
Quinoa Antipast0 Salad
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
2 roma tomatoes
large bunch of baby spinach (approx. 2-3 ounces)
6 baby portobello mushrooms
4 oz. cubed cheese (whatever is on hand, I use cheddar or Monterey Jack)
1 package sliced pepperoni
~1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup Italian dressing (see below for my homemade Italian)
-Boil 2 cups water and add the quinoa, letting the water come back to a boil and then simmering on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until water is absorbed.
-Meanwhile, dice tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, cheese, and onion and add with pepperoni to large bowl.
-Add 1/2 cup of either homemade Italian dressing (see below) or the store brand version of your choice to the bowl.
-After quinoa has cooled (which will take approx. 20 minutes in the refrigerator), add quinoa to the bowl and mix well. Season with additional salt and pepper if you wish (though it is not necessary). Enjoy!
This recipe made my mouth water when I made my own dressing:
Whitney’s Homemade Italian Dressing
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (or canola if you choose)
1/8 cup white vinegar and balsamic vinegar (trust me, you’ll want to combine)
1 tsp minced garlic
Italian seasoning to taste
salt and pepper to taste
-Mix ingredients in glass measuring cup, stirring constantly to keep combined as possible. Tip: Use a fork or whisk–it will break the oil and vinegar into droplets, making them easier to combine.
–Tip: This recipe can be stored for future use, so double, triple, or quadruple the recipe to your heart’s desire.
–Tip: This dressing is also delicious if you dip your Italian bread in it…