Quinoa Salad with Pesto, Snap Peas, and White Beans (gluten free, vegan)

I love the bounty and beauty of a summer's harvest, and the spontaneity of summer cooking.  Vegetables compliment each other in endless ways, and the joy of mixing new things together, adding whatever gems you pulled from the earth or bought at the weekend market is exhilarating.  My garden is growing - I have harvested tons herbs, lots of kale and chard, and two lovely cucumbers so far.  Soon I will have zucchini, squash, beets, and peas (I planted my peas very late).  Fresh vegetables are like toys; I love finding new ways to play with them.  

Last night I was inspired by an abundance of basil, and whipped up a batch of pesto.  Then my mind wandered to the newly picked kale, the last handfuls of sweet and crunchy snap peas from the farmer's market, and the freshly cooked quinoa cooling in my fridge.  Hmn...sounded like a salad in the making.

This salad tastes like summer and is quick and easy to prepare - perfect for those hot days when you don't feel like cooking.  The mixture of peas, beans, quinoa, kale, and garlicky basil pesto offers up a great combination of flavors and textures.  Plus, this would be a great way to use up leftover quinoa or beans, or could easily be made in larger batches if you are serving a crowd.  Simple, lovely, delicious.  I included my quick and spontaneous recipe for pesto at the bottom; it is vegan and nut free, and takes only minutes to prepare.  Easy!

If you've never used quinoa, give it a try! Quinoa is a nutritional superstar, cooks quickly, and is endlessly versatile.  Just as delicious warm as it is cold, quinoa can be used in many dishes from savory to sweet.  One of my favorite ways to use quinoa is in salads like this, because it readily absorbs the flavors of dressings, and has a chewy, delicious texture that makes a perfect base.  I love to use it in place of bulgar in tabbouli-inspired salads, add a scoop to greens salads, or mix it with a mix of finely chopped roasted and raw vegetables for an easy, throw together meal.   

One important note about quinoa is that it benefits greatly from soaking before cooking.  Before our modern convenience-based lifestyle of quick food preparation and processed foods, grains were traditionally soaked as the first step of preparation.  Soaking starts the sprouting process, which breaks down phytonutrients and also allows for easier assimilation and digestion.  Additionally, quinoa has a natural coating on the seed called saponin, which adds a bitter taste and can irritate digestion. By soaking properly, and rubbing the grains together while rinsing, this coating is removed, improving flavor and making digestion friendlier.   Try getting in the habit of soaking all your whole grains for at least 6-8 hours before cooking - while it requires a little forethought, it is worth the effort.  When I started soaking my grains, I noticed  a great difference in the way I digested them.   They didn't feel as heavy in my system, and I felt as though I was more effectively breaking down the carbohydrates. Sometimes I'll let mine soak for up to 24 hours; while this is by accident most of the time, due to poor planning and only having so many hours in the day to work, play, cook, and eat, it doesn't cause them any harm.  Just make sure to change out the water so it doesn't get swampy.  As a side benefit, soaked grains also cook more quickly than unsoaked grains, and use a little less water while cooking! 

On a totally related note, I'm having a major freak out regarding my camera and the photos for this blog.  The lighting sucks in my kitchen, and my camera is making me crabby because I want a nicer one (doesn't everybody?).  The color balance and contrast of so many of my photos has been totally whack, like this one, and there is only so much you can do to adjust the levels in Photoshop before it just starts looking weird.  I work at a photo studio for heaven's sake, and while I'm not a photographer, I'd like to think I should be putting higher quality photography into the world. So.  There's my little hissy fit.  I want to take better photos for this blog, because they ones I'm taking currently just aren't fitting my artistic vision!!!!


yield: 2 servings

1 c cooked quinoa (red or white)
2 c whole snap peas
4-5 small kale leaves
3/4 c c cooked white beans (great northern, cannellini, navy, etc)
2-4 T fresh or prepared pesto (see pesto recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste
  1. If cooking quinoa fresh, soak about 1/2 c dry quinoa grains for 6-8 hours in a loosely covered bowl.  After soaking, rinse well while rubbing grains together. 
  2. To cook quinoa, place rinsed quinoa and about 1 cup water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed and quinoa grains are tender but still intact.  Turn off heat, put cover back on, and let steam for about 15 minutes.  Then remove cover and let cool.  This will make more quinoa than you need for this recipe - no worries!  Leftover quinoa is awesome.  Or just make a bigger batch of salad.
  3. Wash snap peas and kale.  
  4. Steam kale until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.  Let cool for a minute or two, then squeeze out any excess water.  Slice kale into bite size chunks.
  5. Remove ends from peas, then chop into 1/2"-1" chunks.
  6. If using canned beans, rinse well.
  7. Place cooked and cooled quinoa, kale,  snap peas, and beans in a bowl.  Drizzle with pesto and stir to coat, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, and adding more pesto if desired.
  8. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.  Serve!

NUT-FREE DAIRY-FREE BASIL PESTO (gluten free, vegan, nut free)

This recipe does not include cheese or nuts, like most traditional pestos, but still provides all the great basil flavor. I like add vitamin C crystals for a bright, acidy bite and to help preserve the bright green color of the basil.  If you tolerate citrus (I don't), feel free to add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead.  Or, don't use either one, and just proceed without!  It will still be delicious.   Enjoy!

HINT:  I like to freeze fresh pesto in ice cube trays, then transfer cubes to a freezer bag for longer storage.  That way I can use a small quantity whenever and however I want!  Nothing is better than pulling out a cube of homemade pesto in the dead of winter, or being able to have some pesto on hand to throw into to last minute dips or sauces.   Perfect if you live alone, need to rotate your diet, make pesto in BIG batches, or have a combination of all three like me.  : )  

yield: about 1 1/2 c pesto  

3 c packed fresh basil
1 - 1 1/2 c olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 tsp vitamin C crystals or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1-2 fresh garlic cloves (or more if you'd like!)
  1. Wash and dry the basil leaves.
  2. Place all ingredients in a blender (start with 1 c olive oil), and blend until smooth.  Add more olive as necessary to reach desired consistency.
  3. Store in a well-sealed jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for longer storage.