The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?
After all, this is not a cheap ingredient, partly because it is difficult to grow and must be shipped from far corners of the earth, and partly because the Clean Eaterati have made it super-trendy and therefore Waitrose can stick a price tag on it equivalent to that of most joints of meat. Should you want to experiment with red or black quinoa, you’ll have to forgo most other monthly expenses, and should you want to replace wheat with ‘quinoa flour’ in your everyday baking, you might as well remortgage your house (or get a powerful blender, but they amount to basically the same thing).
I’m a big fan of the nutty crunch of properly-cooked quinoa, which is trickier to achieve than you might think (the key is to toast it first in a hot pan then cook it like rice using the absorption method, with a ratio 2:3 of quinoa to water). It has more texture and bite than couscous, and more flavour than bulgur wheat, and also has the advantage of being gluten-free for those who need it. It makes robust, hearty salads, and I do enjoy using it sparingly in the kitchen. Recently, however, I seem to have been inadvertently bulk-buying the stuff when I find it going cheap(ish) in certain shops, and found myself with an unexpected hoard of quinoa. So, in spite of everything I’ve just said, I did indeed cook a large batch and put it in the fridge. If there’s one thing that tastes even better than cooked quinoa, it’s hypocrisy.
I should point out that I did actually have a recipe in mind for the cooked quinoa – some delicious Donna Hay quinoa and preserved lemon fritters – and the fact that I had a bit left over after making those was an accident. This happy accident resulted in a delicious salad (although it barely merits that designation, so hearty and filling was this creation). I felt I must share the recipe, should you ever have any cooked quinoa lounging around expensively in your fridge. You could, of course, cook it especially for this salad, as long as you can accept that you are not, therefore, a true Clean Eater and that Gweneth Paltrow will never welcome you into her clan.
Springy kale leaves, sweet juicy mango, fresh coriander, peppery watercress, the bite of red chilli, toasted cashew nuts, creamy avocado and a dressing of shallots, lime and passionfruit white balsamic vinegar (which I also had lingering in my kitchen, along with the cooked quinoa; I have become a parody of something, I’m just not quite sure what) all mixed with the nutty quinoa and topped with some roast Cajun salmon flakes from the delightful Bleikers smokehouse. Their smoked salmon is delicious, but these roast pieces are also gloriously rich and flavoursome (they come in a Thai flavour too), and perfect for substantial salads like this one. The hot, smoky Cajun spice is great against the soft avocado and the zing of lime juice. It would also work with Cajun-spiced chicken, or feta cheese if you’re a vegetarian, or just avocado, if you’re vegan. A salad that caters for all tastes.
Cajun salmon quinoa salad with mango, avocado and cashews (serves 2):
For the dressing:
- 1 shallot, very finely chopped
- Juice of half a lime
- Zest of 1 lime
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or white balsamic vinegar (I used passionfruit white balsamic, because I’m radical and hipster with my vinegars, but most light vinegars will work here)
- Salt and pepper
For the salad:
- 3 tbsp cashew nuts
- 2 large handfuls of trimmed kale
- 1 ripe mango
- 1 mild red chilli
- A small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 spring onions
- 200g cooked quinoa
- 100g Cajun roast salmon flakes, or other cooked salmon
- Two large handfuls of watercress
- 1 ripe avocado
- Lime wedges, to serve
First, make the dressing. Whisk all the ingredients together, season to taste, and set aside.
Toast the cashews in a dry pan over a medium heat, then set aside to cool. Steam or boil the kale for a couple of minutes, then put in a large mixing bowl. Peel, de-stone and chop the mango into 2cm cubes, then add to the kale in the bowl. Thinly slice the chilli (de-seed it if you want it less hot) and add to the bowl, along with the coriander.
Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan, then add the quinoa and spring onions. Cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes to warm it up, then add to the salad bowl. Put the salmon flakes in the pan and cook for a minute to warm through.
Toss the quinoa mix gently with the salad dressing. Divide the watercress between two plates or bowls, then divide the quinoa between the bowls. Top with the Cajun salmon. Roughly chop the cashews and scatter them over the salad. Peel and slice the avocado, then use to garnish the salad. Serve immediately with lime wedges to squeeze over.