grain free.

Last week, one of my clients hosted a dinner at her house for ten women.  She asked me if I would be able to cook a meal to accommodate one of her guests who is currently on a cleansing diet- avoiding all processed sugars and grains.  It seems that a lot of folks these days are avoiding one or both of those categories of food in an effort to lose weight, become more healthy, or handle medical situations.  The woman was convinced she’d need to bring her own dinner, rather than enjoy the meal that the other guests would be experiencing.  No way, Jose.  Not on my watch.  Eating grain-free or processed sugar-free does not mean that one can’t eat delicious, colorful, diverse, fresh meals.

I decided to make Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts Tossed in Basil Pesto with Black Quinoa and White Bean Salad, with a Field Green Salad and Balsamic Vinaigrette.  Although quinoa sort of functions like a grain- as a side dish or in a salad- it is really a seed related to leafy green veggies.  It is used to make pasta as well, a great go-to item for people with gluten intolerance.  Apparently, the food at my client’s dinner was a big hit, and several of the guests asked for the Quinoa Salad recipe.  I thought I’d go ahead and share it with you too!

black quinoa salad

This salad isn’t hard to make, there are just a fair amount of simple steps to follow.  I’ll give you some options at the end that would shorten the process without changing the feel of the dish.

Black Quinoa and White Bean Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

For the Quinoa:

1 Cup black quinoa

2 Cups chicken broth

2 large or 3 small cloves garlic, peeled

Soak quinoa in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes.  Drain the water out of the bowl using a fine strainer to catch your quinoa.  Heat a medium sized pot to medium heat.   Add the quinoa and stir for about a minute, getting rid of the moisture and toasting the quinoa.  Then add your broth.  Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and stir.  Turn up your heat to bring the liquid up to a quick boil, and then cover the pot and reduce your heat to low.  Allow the quinoa to simmer and absorb the liquid.  This will take about 25 minutes for the black quinoa, but only 15 if you are using white quinoa.  Be careful not to overcook it or the grains will get puffy and starchy.  As soon as the liquid is gone, it is finished cooking.  Then remove the quinoa to a large bowl.  Press your garlic into the quinoa.  Drizzle with a little EVOO and stir it.  Then, spread the quinoa up the sides of the bowl, and let it cool down a bit.

For the salad:

1 can small white beans, rinsed and drained

½ Cup sunflower seeds

2 red bell peppers

1 bunch kale- any kind you like

good handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

For the sunflower seeds:  Preheat oven to 325°.

Spread your sunflower seeds onto a sheet pan.  You can roast a bunch of them at one time and keep your leftover seeds in a container.  Drizzle very lightly with EVOO and sprinkle with a touch of salt.  Use your hands to toss the seeds.  Then, spread them out in an even layer.  Roast for about 5 – 6 minutes and then toss the seeds with a spatula.  Repeat the cooking and tossing process until the seeds are light brown in color and beautifully roasted- about 15 minutes.  Then, remove the seeds from the pan and place them in a brown paper bag.  Roll down the top of the bag and shake.  This will remove any excess oil on the seeds.

For the peppers:  Preheat oven to 450°.

Place your red bell peppers onto a small sheet pan and drizzle with a little bit of EVOO.  Roast in the oven, close to the heating element, turning the peppers as the skin blackens, until the whole pepper is black- about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on your oven.  Then, place peppers in a bowl and cover with foil for 5 minutes.  Carefully peel off the skin and discard.  (You can let the peppers cool down a few minutes so you can handle them.)  Then, remove the seeds from the pepper flesh.  Cut the flesh into a small dice.

For the kale:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  When the water boils, salt it generously.  Rinse kale and run your hand up each stem, while holding the bottom, pulling each leaf off the rib.  Then, tear the leaves into large chunks.  Boil the kale for 5 minutes, using a spoon or tongs to push the leaves back into the water, as they love to rise.  Use your a slotted spoon to remove the kale from the pot and place it in a bowl full of ice and water to stop the cooking.  Drain the kale into a colander.  Lastly, squeeze the water out of the kale with your hands and chop kale pretty finely.

For the shallot vinaigrette:

1 large shallot, sliced and sautéed in a bit of EVOO until the shallot just begins to brown.

Zest and juice of a lemon

Splash of champagne vinegar- or the vinegar you have on hand

1 clove garlic

good squeeze of honey

leaves of 2 sprigs of fresh basil

good pinch salt and pepper

water to loosen

Place all ingredients in a small food processor.  Whir ingredients to combine them well.  Slowly stream in ¼ Cup of EVOO while you blend.  Stop and taste it.  Adjust seasoning to your liking.  Blend in a little bit of water to thin the dressing if it seems too thick.

Add the ingredients for the salad to the bowl of quinoa.  Drizzle with half of your dressing and stir it into the salad.  Add more dressing and toss to coat all of the goodies.  Taste your salad and adjust seasoning to your liking.  And you’re ready to serve!

quinoa salad

You can change up your add-in ingredients based on what you have in your fridge or pantry!

To shorten the process of making this salad, you could utilize store-bought roasted red peppers and dice up about 3 of them.  You could also buy roasted sunflower seeds.  In addition, rather than blending up a dressing, you could zest of your lemon over the salad and squeeze the lemon juice right into your salad bowl, and just drizzle in your EVOO, vinegar, and sprinkle in your seasoning.  I just find that making the dressing separately allows me to spread flavor and texture more evenly throughout a salad.  Lastly- you could totally replace the kale with 1 zucchini- and just shred it raw.  It looks pretty in the salad and takes away all of the steps required to prepare the kale.

Serve this salad as a side dish for a yummy pork tenderloin or chicken.  Or, make it a vegetarian main dish- it’s got protein and veggies!  Or, whip it up on a Sunday and enjoy it for lunch all week!

You know I love to play with different textures and flavors within salads.  This one has received high praise from a wide audience.  Feel free to trade out the seeds for hazelnuts or use spinach instead of kale.  Make it fun, colorful, and tasty!

Happy cooking and eating to you!






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