Quinoa and Beet Salad

We became fans of quinoa in the last five years or so and I question why we didn't glom onto it years prior. Talk about versatile! While I won't wax poetic about the little seeds of goodness I will say there are literally millions and millions of recipes on the internet that call for quinoa as an ingredient; I am going to add one more.

A couple of our close friends live here in St. Albert and we met them when we moved here and ended up sharing the same street. Turns out they're from BC as well, in fact they hail from just up the street from Prince George, in MacKenzie, and fate would join us as neighbours in St. Albert. Well not really fate so much as their bad luck.

Turns out we share common loves and interests, a couple of them really - food and good booze (wine and select rum). Chris and Melinda are fantastic cooks and great hosts which is really handy to have in a neighbourhood. In fact we often spend time together as we dine, laugh and enjoy great wines from around the world and it is the food that always helps to creates great memories. The wine can cloud them however.

They are very adventurous when it comes to food and whether in their home or ours, often times something new or novel will be attempted in the kitchen, and it was one of Melinda's side dishes that really woke my taste buds one evening.  Quinoa and Beet Salad.

She made hers with goat cheese and it was fantastic and when you know I am not a fan of goat cheese that is quite a feat.  I have made it a couple of times and varied the recipe to suit my family's taste buds, then one night when I went to make it I forgot what went into it, so to the telephone I ran.

I asked Melinda for the recipe and her reply was simply quinoa, beets, olive oil, cheese, ground pepper - that's it. No proportions, no times, no directions - ingredients only! We did discuss adding cilantro and mint which she agreed would probably taste great but still no directions. Sheesh.

So I went to the kitchen and took her recipe and tweaked it a little bit and an hour or so later a great dish was ready, paired with grilled pork chops it was a winner! Melinda would be proud.

They are great friends whom we love very much and they have enriched our lives by offering us their friendship, their time and their great cooking. Okay, they offered up the occasional hangover too which was not appreciated or desired, but with friends you take the good with the bad...

1 cup quinoa, see note below
2 cups low sodium or no salt added chicken stock
2 cups (2 medium size) roasted beets, see below
½ cup (2 oz) soft cheese of your choice 1/4" dice, I prefer mild cheese like Edam or Gouda
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for salad
2 Tbsp olive oil for coating beets
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, finely minced (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely minced (optional)
Salt to taste

Quinoa is covered with a natural substance called saponin that protects the grain from marauding insects and birds, it has an unpleasant bitter taste I am told but by rinsing the quinoa before cooking you get rid of that bitter stuff. Read cooking instructions on your quinoa package as it may have been rinsed prior to being packaged.

To rinse it, place quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse under cold running water stirring with your finger or a small spoon as you do. About 1 minute. Drain and place in medium saucepan.

Add chicken stock to quinoa over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low.

Simmer, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes or until a taste test says it is al dente (cooked but still a little chewy). Remove from heat when al dente and set aside, covered for 10 minutes to allow it to finish cooking and take up all the liquid. Place cooked quinoa in a bowl, fluff it with a fork then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Scrub beets clean. Once scrubbed, rub olive oil over them to coat completely.

Place a large piece of aluminum foil into a baking tray or dish. Place coated beets into tray then fold up the foil, sealing the edges.

Roast beets until tender, which depending on size can take ½ hour – 2 hours. (FYI - fresh beets cook  faster). Start checking them for tenderness at about 30 minutes by poking with a fork. If ready, the fork will pierce them with just a little pressure.

Remove the beets from oven when tender and let them sit, sealed in the foil wrap, until cool enough to handle. When cool,  remove from foil and rub the skins off. Once skins are removed, dice into ¼” dice and place in refrigerator to cool, about 1 hour.

Combine cooled quinoa and beets, toss gently.
Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, cheese, cilantro, mint and pepper in a large bowl, toss gently to combine. 
Taste and season with additional salt if desired.

Serves 6.

 I served it with grilled white wine and cilantro marinated pork chops..  Mmmmmmmmm!!!!