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Don't Fear the Quinoa: Southwest Quinoa Salad

02/22/2012 02:42 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2012

I didn't even know how to pronounce quinoa until a few years ago,

"KeeNoA," I said. "Isn't that like a super grain the indians used to eat or something?"

"It's pronounced "Keen-WA," said my friend, who watched me silently while I danced around doing my best Karate Kid imitation. "Keeeeen-WAAAAAAA!!!!"

When I was done she added, quite seriously, "It's a very important and very nutritious grain."

Well. That may be. But I was still very wary of our friend quinoa.

In my abject ignorance, it ranked up there with the sorts of vaguely frightening and definitely unpalatable foodstuffs like tempeh and spirulina that uber-healthy sorts eat. And since I've always felt like my love of rice and beans and lentils should adequately pay my rent in the healthy eating food space, I didn't have to go out there into the wild outback of unpronounceable grains.

But then I saw a recipe for something called southwest quinoa salad. And for some reason, maybe it was the lunch hour, maybe it was the photograph, or the mention of black beans... it stuck and plagued me until I broke down and resolved to give it a whirl. Quinoa and everything.

First, I procured a box of quinoa from Trader Joe's.

I riffed on this recipe I found on my latest favorite blog, My Kitchen Addiction:

Here's her recipe, with my changes:

• 1 cup quinoa
• 2 cups water
• 15 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
 (or about 2 cups cooked black beans)
• 3 ears of steamed corn, cut off the cob (yeah, right. It's Jan. I used one 15-ounce can of corn)
 ... or 2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
• 1 red bell pepper, diced
• 1/2 red onion, chopped
• Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Mixed greens (optional)
• Avocado slices (optional)

I rinsed the quinoa first. It's very small and light and a lot of it floats. So you have to strain it through a fine mesh.

Cook the quinoa in the water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes.

While you're cooking the quinoa, chop the veggies and prepare the lime cilantro dressing:

Use the good chili powder, from Little India. Then:

• 1 lime (zest and juice)
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon chili powder
• 1 tablespoon agave syrup ( I used honey)

Mix all the veggies in a bowl, add the COOLED quinoa. Toss with the dressing and refrigerate for a few hours. Serve over greens....

The Drama Teen inspected this. "Are you making fish eggs?" she asked. No, I said. It's quinoa.

She's gotta learn this from someone, right?

I dished this out and passed it around. it looked good to me, but who knows what it tasted like.

Verdict?

"Excellent," said the lovely ex. And then fixed me with a look. "Who are you and what have you done with Julie?"

Audrey, a kitchen goddess, also praised this salad. "I can't eat all that," she said, when I presented her with a plate. And then she finished it all. I was thrilled. Because Audge knows good eatin'.

I'm warming up to quinoa. I'm not so afraid. It's not so crunchy after all. I think I can work with it.

I think next time I'll try this recipe. It includes feta cheese, and cooks the quinoa in chicken broth. A sinful (and flavorful) way to counteract the holy righteousness of quinoa.

Keeeeen-WAAAA!!!"