I’m a huge fan of grain-based salads. Not only do they keep and travel well (making them ideal for lunch at work or impromptu picnics), I find them far more versatile than the leafy green kind. They seem like a more proper meal, with the balance of grains, veggies and in this case, feta. Quinoa is one of my favorite starting points – lighter in texture than most whole grains, it’s fluffy, slightly nutty and light, making a wonderful high-fiber, high-protein, gluten-free salad that won’t weigh you down.
I had made a similar salad with rice, sliced spinach, feta and lemon, which inspired a friend to tell me about a version they make with quinoa, feta, dried cranberries and sauteed leeks. Because leeks are more mellow than onions, and their flesh less meaty, they cook up into these wonderful crispy bits that make a fantastic addition to a salad. I’d never have thought of it!
Quinoa Salad with Sauteed Leeks & Feta
1 cup quinoa
canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 small blob of butter (about 1/2 tablespoon)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pine nuts, slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, toasted
Dressing: equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, with lots of freshly ground black pepper
Rinse quinoa well under cool water in a fine sieve, then cook in a pot of boiling salted water over medium heat until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. (Just like you’d cook pasta.) Drain well, return to the pot, put the lid back on and let it steam – this will produce fluffy quinoa – until cooled.
Cut the white and pale green part off the leek and discard the darker green leafy part. Trim the root end and cut in half lengthwise. Rinse well, cleaning any grit from between the layers. Thinly slice. Heat a drizzle of oil with a pat of butter in a skillet set over medium-high heat and saute the leeks until pale golden. Set aside.
Toss the quinoa with the sauteed leek, celery, feta, cranberries and nuts in a large bowl. Dress with oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with plenty of pepper. Toss to coat and serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. Serves 4-6.