Quinoa and I have a tortured relationship. One that I am adament on mending. I have to admit, it may be my fault. Our introduction wasn’t entirely agreeable. I totally didn’t realize you were supposed to rinse quinoa, so the first few times I tried to force us to like this magical grain, we totally hated it. It tasted weird and soapy and gross. So, I left it alone for 2 solid years before realizing I was doing it all wrong. For shame!
Since, I’ve dabbled in quinoa. Adding it to bean burgers and turkey meatballs, letting it hang in the background, no longer hating it, but continuing to let it underwhelm me. Not giving it a fare shake. Recently, though, I’ve become obsessed with this “autumn couscous salad” from the deli of my favorite grocery store, New Seasons. I decided to remake it at home, but sub out the couscous for quinoa in yet another attempt at making it something we could love. And, hallelujah! I’ve done it!
This salad just gets me. It’s full of texture (my favorite) and perfectly balances sweet, nutty, salty, and tangy. I love the way quinoa retains some texture even after it’s cooked and sort of pops when you chew it. Plus it makes this salad so filling, making for a great lunch on its own.
Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad with Cranberries and Feta
Make 4-6 servings
I like my vinaigrettes pretty tart and tangy, using a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and olive oil. If you like a smoother dressing, go ahead and reduce the vinegar by a tablespoon or so, to taste. The dressing also includes quite a bit of shallot, which makes for a chunky vinaigrette, but totally adds a ton of flavor to the salad without making for an overwhelmingly onion-y dish. There may seem to be a lot of vinaigrette, but the quinoa really soaks up the dressing. If you are worried, add half and see where you’re at before adding the rest to taste.
3 cups sweet potato, diced small (about 2 small sweet potatoes)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped sage
1/4 cup finely diced shallot (about 1 medium shallot)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the diced sweet potato with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Spread the sweet potatoes in an even layer on a sheet pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes, stirring once after about 15 minutes, until tender and some pieces begin to brown. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa well in a mesh strainer. Add it to a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the quinoa begins to boil reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed. Let the quinoa stand, uncovered for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
While the sweet potatoes and quinoa cook, mix up the dressing. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the shallots, with the red wine vinegar, remaining olive oil, mustard, maple syrup, the remaining salt, and pepper. Shake well to combine.
Add the still warm, cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl and combine with the dressing. Fold in the cooked sweet potatoes, spinach, cranberries, pepitas, feta, and sage. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 days. [/recipe]