Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers flavor this protein-rich vegan main course dish
By the time midsummer heat rolls around, I’m craving light and fresh dishes. And I’m in luck, because right now in the US we’re enjoying an abundance of locally grown vegetables (including some from our own backyards). Tomatoes and cucumbers are my favorites — for a few short weeks in summer, their flavors are at a peak. With the hot weather we typically face at this time of the year, they’re about all I want to eat.
But of course we need a bit more than that, so it’s time for main-course bean and/or grain salads loaded up with ripe summer veggies. Today’s salad is really a meal in itself, although you may want to add some bread — and if you’re feeling indulgent, a nice glass of wine.
You’ll probably have some leftovers, which will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Pack them in small containers, and you can brown bag them in lunches for the next day.
So this recipe gives you a terrific-tasting, exceptionally healthy main-course salad. And you can enjoy it again for lunch the next day. Totally keen — or is that quin?
Recipe: Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad
You can easily change this recipe around to suit your own taste. I often substitute ingredients (instead of white beans I use lima beans, for example, or maybe even pintos). I also alter quantities depending on what I have on hand — and what kind of flavor profile I’m drawn to on that particular day. So even though I provide specific ingredients and quantities, consider this more a template than a recipe, and use it to create your own dish. (But if you’ve never made this type of salad before, it’s a good idea to make it more or less as-is the first time through so you get an intuitive idea of how these salads work.)
IMO you want the flavor and fragrance of fresh herbs in this dish. I include parsley, which tends to be welcome in almost any salad. I also include fresh dill, partly because its flavor works in this recipe, and partly because I have an abundance growing in my garden right now. But feel free to substitute any fresh herb that appeals to you (fresh thyme, for example, combines beautifully with beans).
If you don’t have access to fresh herbs, dried ones make an acceptable substitute. But their flavor is concentrated, so use much less. When substituting dried herbs for fresh, I usually start with about a quarter of the amount called for in the recipe (sometimes a bit less). It’s easy enough to taste the salad and add more if necessary (but impossible to remove dried herbs once they’re mixed in).
Prep time for this salad is 20 to 30 minutes. You can serve it immediately (it’s good at room temperature) or let it chill for an hour or so.
This recipe makes enough for at least 4 hearty main-course servings. Leftovers keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days (they’re safe to eat after that, but the flavor deteriorates).
- ½ cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup of water for cooking the quinoa
- 2 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed (or ½ pound dried white beans, soaked and cooked; see Notes)
- a couple handfuls of grape or cherry tomatoes (about 1 container; or use whole tomatoes and cut into chunks)
- 1 or 2 cucumbers (to taste)
- ~½ red onion, diced (to taste; a bit more than ½ cup is my taste)
- 3 - 4 tablespoons parsley (to taste)
- ~2 tablespoons dill (to taste)
- ~5 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (very approximate — you need to rely on your own taste for this)
- ~2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar (if using wine vinegar, perhaps a bit less)
- salt to taste (a good teaspoon of kosher salt for me)
- black pepper to taste (freshly ground only, please; a good couple of healthy pinches for me)
- garnish of dill or parsley leaves (optional)
- The quinoa takes 10 to 15 minutes to cook, so start with that first. Cook ½ cup of quinoa according to package instructions. Generally, you use twice as much water as quinoa (so 1 cup of water in this case) and cook until all the water is absorbed. You can salt the cooking water or not, as you prefer. Once the quinoa is cooked, if you’re not ready to add it to the salad yet, set aside.
- Meanwhile, open the cans of beans, drain, and rinse (I usually dump the beans into a strainer over the sink to make this easier). Add the beans to a medium or large bowl (large enough to hold the finished salad).
- Wash the tomatoes. If using grape or cherry tomatoes, I usually cut in them half (although you can keep them whole, if you prefer). If using larger tomatoes, I always cut into chunks (and try to lose some of the seeds and watery pulp along the way — these don’t add anything to the salad). Add the tomatoes to the beans.
- Peel the cucumbers. Cut in half lengthwise, and using a dessert spoon, scoop out the seeds. Then cut the cucumber halves into a shape that pleases you — half moons, for example. For this salad, I usually cut the cuke halves lengthwise in pieces a bit larger than a quarter-inch, then cut crosswise into dice. Add the cucumbers to the beans and tomatoes.
- Peel the onion and cut into dice of about ¼-inch. I typically use about ½ an onion (maybe ½ cup), but use as much as tastes good to you. Add the onion to the bowl with the beans and other ingredients.
- Wash and dry the parsley. Pick off the leaves (discarding the stems) and mince. Add the parsley to the bowl with the beans and other ingredients.
- Wash, dry, and mince the dill. Add to the bowl with the beans and other ingredients.
- The quinoa should be cooked by this time. Let it cool a bit (more or less to room temperature, although a bit warmer is OK; you can toss with a fork to help cool it), then add the quinoa to the bowl with the beans and other ingredients.
- Toss all the ingredients together to mix, then start adding the extra virgin olive oil. Don’t add it all at once! You really don’t know how much you’re going to need. I usually start with about 3 tablespoons, toss with the ingredients, then taste. And only then do I add more if necessary. How to tell if you have enough? You want a thin – THIN – coat of olive oil on everything in the bowl, but when you take a bite, you should taste ingredients first, olive oil second.
- When you’ve added sufficient olive oil, add the lemon juice or wine vinegar. Again, start with about half of what you think you’ll need, taste, and add more if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss to incorporate. (Alternatively, you can add these after you’ve added the oil and before you add the lemon juice.)
- Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve. A garnish of dill or parsley leaves is a nice touch.
- You can use any kind of white bean that you like in this salad. I generally use Great Northerns because they’re available, usually of decent quality, and inexpensive. Cannellini beans make an excellent substitute. I like navy beans a bit less in this salad, but they’ll work too.
- The recipe specifies canned beans because they’re easy to use and take less time than cooking your own dried beans. I actually prefer to cook the beans myself when I’m making this salad, but you have to plan ahead. So I often cook up a pound or two of beans and store them in the refrigerator, for use in recipes. They freeze well too — just freeze them in some of their cooking liquid.
- Almost any kind of dried beans will work in this recipe. Kidney beans work quite well, as do black-eyed peas.
- You can also substitute almost any grain for quinoa. Rice is an obvious choice, as is a small pasta shape, like orzo. But there’s a whole world of grains out there, including barley, bulgur, and wild rice — almost any of them will work.
- I like the combo of beans and grain in this salad, but you could use just one or the other if you prefer. In that case, you’ll need to adjust quantities.
- We used to think that we had to consume beans along with a grain at the same meal in order to get the benefit of a “complete” protein. Today, most scientists have concluded eating them together isn’t necessary. I like to combine them simply because they taste so good together!
- Quinoa has become deservedly popular over the past decade because it’s highly nutritional and gluten free (it isn’t a true cereal grain because it isn’t part of the grass family; rather, it belongs to the chenopod family, a pseudocereal). Quinoa has more fat than most cereals, including small amounts of omega-3 fatty acid.
- Because of its popularity, demand for quinoa has exploded — as has its price. Alas, the price probably won’t drop anytime soon. In a recent Washington Post article, Lydia DePillis explains that quinoa will likely remain in short supply because although the world’s major producers (Peru and Bolivia) are increasing output, demand is growing even faster. And though quinoa can be grown in North America, the market isn’t yet large enough to tempt farmers to plant it here — especially since it can be a difficult crop to cultivate. Bummer.
Summer Says Salad!
“I love hearty summer salads!” exclaimed Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she forked her White Bean and Quinoa Salad.
“Me too,” I agreed. “And there are so many different ones out there.”
“Yeah,” said Mrs K R between bites. “Like that terrific Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad you made earlier this year.”
“That is a good one,” I agreed. “It’s basically a traditional Tuna Pasta Salad combined with a classic Italian White Bean and Tuna Salad.”
“Then there’s that great Edamame and Bean Salad you sometimes make,” mused Mrs K R. “Not to mention your Summer Pasta Salad — the one that’s a take on Bert Greene’s famous ziti salad.”
“That’s another really a good one,” I agreed. “And when it comes to main-course salads, maybe the best of them all is Salade Niçoise. It’s such a terrific combo of French Potato Salad, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and tuna. Of course BLT Salad is awfully good too, as is its close cousin, Chicken, Lettuce, and Mayonnaise Salad.”
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “And of course we often have a wonderful Caesar Salad as a main course. Or the ever-popular Chef's Salad.”
“So which one do you like best?” I inquired.
“Why this one, of course!” said Mrs K R. Then, slowly and carefully, as if explaining it to a slow child, she added. “It’s the one in front of me!”
Can’t beat that logic.
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