Caprese Quinoa Salad

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Summer means picnics, barbeques, graduation parties, bridal showers, baby showers, and all other various and sundry events where you might need to bring some kind of potluck dish.  My usual standby for something like this is a dessert or homemade salsa, but I decided to think outside the box this time.

Since discovering that I can’t eat gluten, parties like this are something of a challenge for me.  I can’t eat pasta salad, my long-standing grudge against mayonnaise crosses off potato salad, fried chicken is always breaded, and picking the insides of a sandwich out usually leaves about four bites of food and then I end up hoarding the potato chips because that’s about the only thing I’m sure I can eat.  Which isn’t a very good base for all the sangria I drink at these things.  So I was trying to think of something that I could make that would be filling, tasty, and hold up to hanging out on a blanket or picnic table for a few hours.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) looks like a grain, but it’s actually a seed.  It’s got a high protein content, so it’s very popular with vegetarians/vegans, and since it’s got a pretty neutral flavor, you can do a lot with it.  I love the flavors in a caprese salad, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

Caprese Quinoa Salad

Makes 10 – 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of Quinoa or Quinoa/Brown Rice Mix
  • 2 – 4 cups of water (depending on your quinoa to rice ratio)
  • 2 cups (1 Pint) of sweet baby tomatoes, quartered
  • 20 whole Basil Leaves
  • 8 ounces of Fresh Mozzarella
  • ¾ of a cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • ½  teaspoon Salt
  • ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Onion Powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Italian Seasoning

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Directions:

 

First, rinse your quinoa and get your water boiling.  Some quinoa comes pre-washed, so if you can get that kind, do.  Saves you a step.

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Once the water comes to a boil, dump your washed quinoa into the pot and bring it back to boil.

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Cover, turn the heat down to a low simmer and leave for 25 minutes.

While that’s going, you can cut your tomatoes.  Let me tell you, those tiny tomatoes are slippery little suckers!

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You can halve them, but I like a smaller chop since you aren’t going to be cooking them.  Don’t they look cute?  And I didn’t even cut myself!
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Put them aside and grab your basil.  I forgot how lovely fresh basil smells.  You’ll want to strip the leaves from the stems.

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Then, make a few piles of basil with the largest leaves on the bottom and the smaller ones on the top and roll them into tiny, fragrant cigars.
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This next part  is secretly my favorite part of this recipe because it makes me feel like a proper chef.  You want to then chiffonade your basil into strips.  Chiffonade – that’s a great word.  I need to use it more often.

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Give the strips another rough chop so they are more like bits and set them aside.

Now, we’re going to make the dressing.  This is pretty basic, so you can adapt it to your personal tastes.
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Pour olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and italian seasoning into a high sided bowl and whisk until well mixed.

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Next, add half your basil to the tomatoes and pour half the dressing over it, enough to cover the tomatoes.
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Stick that and the rest of the dressing in the fridge.

By now, your quinoa should be done.  Take it off the heat and give it a few minutes to rest.

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At this point, you could definitely combine everything, including the mozzarella, and serve this dish warm.  Since I was bringing this to a barbecue, the quinoa needed to cool down to room temperature.  I spread it out in a baking dish and left it for about an hour.

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Once the quinoa was cool enough that the cheese wasn’t going to melt into it and turn my lovely salad into a big gloppy mess, it was time to mix.  You’re going to want to get your biggest mixing bowl for this.

 

Quinoa, then the tomato/basil/dressing goodness:
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Then – cheese!  I used the little mozzarella pearls, but you could also chop up a ball into bite size chunks:
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Last, the rest of your basil and the remaining dressing:
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Fold the quinoa up and over the tomatoes and mozzarella until everything is very well combined.
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I would taste here to see if you want more salt/pepper/dressing/etc. I think when I make this next time, I’ll probably make a little more dressing and add some red pepper flakes for heat.  You’ll want to stick it back in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the flavors mix and let the dressing soak in.

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This could go with quite a few dishes – chicken skewers, burgers, steak.  And it’s a great vegetarian option for the non-meat eaters.

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