Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quinoa Salad with Parsley, Almonds, and Lemon

I have been enjoying listening to various podcasts while out on a long walk with Peyton. One of the stations I have been particularly enjoying as of late is Alec Baldwin's NPR podcast Here's the Thing. The other night, he had Michael Pollan, one of my favorite food authors, in the spotlight. I loved his books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma so I was really looking forward to the podcast. To my surprise, Pollan was one of the more entertaining persons Baldwin has hosted on his show thus far. He was extremely articulate, engaging, and funny; the conversation flowed quite easily as a result. I became even more endeared to him after hearing him describe his battle with a pesty woodchuck who would not stop attacking his backyard garden. Pollan describes how at one point he had been so fed up with the disastrous results of the woodchuck's activity that he decided to pour gasoline down the entrance of its burrow followed shortly by a match. I couldn't help laugh out loud when he described how the exercise backfired and he narrowly escaped torching his entire backyard. It reminded me of Paul's current battle with the moles who love to dig their tunnels in our backyard.

At one point during the show, Pollan touched on picky eating in young children and drew on his own experience raising a very sensitive, ridiculously selective son. Pollan stressed that the key to getting children to overcome their aversion towards a particular food is to invite that child into the kitchen to help with the food preparation. He said that oftentimes when the child participates in the slicing, dicing, sauteeing, and searing of a particular dish, the object of their suspicion will quickly turn into one of acceptance. Apparently he had incredible success with this method in his own son and now the two of them enjoy cooking, preparing, and eating just about everything together - as long at it is minimally processed, fresh, and seasonal!

This notion is not a new concept and I have heard it many, many times before from everyone from Rachel Ray to my own mother. But for some reason, I decided to test the theory on an ingredient that has been freaking my kids out a lot lately: quinoa. I have been on a quinoa kick as of late because I have been craving it. When prepared correctly, this plant-based protein is incredibly satisfying, fresh, and nourishing. I love how I feel after eating a quinoa salad and enjoy the energy it gives me for hours after mealtime. I made a quinoa side dish for our Labor Day meal and all the children freaked at the creepy little squiggly, beads piled high on their plates. Emma thought they looked like "little eggs" and refused to try them. Matthew held out for a bit, and then finally succumbed to trying a bite and then ended up finishing his whole plate. I think he still struggled with the texture a bit, but agreed that the flavor was acceptable.

So, I decided to try out Michael Pollan's theory on picky eaters using Emma and the dreaded quinoa as my test subjects. I announced to Emma that she was going to help me prepare a Parsley and Quinoa Salad with Almonds. She balked at the idea initially, claiming that she was too tired to cook. Baloney. After about five minutes of coaxing, she finally climbed up to the counter to help. I'll have to admit that I did threaten her with no television for a week. That seemed to do the trick.

I showed her the quinoa in its uncooked form and explained to her what it is. I let her touch, feel, and play with it for a bit before we rinsed it thoroughly and set it on the stove top to cook. As the quinoa simmered away, I walked Emma through the process of making the dressing. She very much enjoyed zesting the lemons and crushing the garlic. I explained the process of emulsification to her and taught her how to vigorously whisk while adding oil to the acid in order to get the two of them to "get along" and blend properly. She seemed to be enjoying herself so far.

Then, we chopped the sweet onion, the almonds, and parsley. She snacked on all three of these while I took the quinoa off the stove. We added the hot quinoa to the dressing and tossed everything together. I could tell I was losing her interest, so I tried to wrap up the little experiment quickly so we could get to the tasting.

The quinoa was piled high in a serving dish and then offered to Emma.

"No thank you, I don't want it," was the response of my unenthusiastic sous chef.
"But Emma, don't you want to try what we made together?"
"No I don't. You can eat it. I don't like the king-a-wa stuff. I have a hard even remembering its name!" she said, walking away.

I asked her (sternly!) to at least try one bite and she actually obliged. Here it was - the moment of truth. Will she or will she not, out of pride for having just made this dish from start to finish, suddenly cast off any prior disdain for the main ingredient?

As you can see from her face, she wasn't thrilled with the taste - "It tastes a little bit spicy for me. I don't want any more! You eat it, Mom."

I asked if perhaps our experiment made her more likely to try quinoa again in the future, to which she replied with a sing-songy voice: "No."

Well, that experiment was an epic fail. I couldn't convince my child to climb on board the quinoa train despite having helped prepare a pretty tasty dish thus rendering the Pollan theory for picky eaters round one was a bust. BUT for those of you who are quinoa lovers, the recipe we made is posted below. And it's awesome. But I guess you have to like quinoa to think so.

At least I have a pretty delicious lunch to look forward to in the coming days!

Quinoa Salad with Parsley, Almonds, and Lemon
adapted from Food Network

Note: If you like a salad that is heavier on the dressing, cook up only 1 cup of dry quinoa. If you prefer more quinoa, less dressing, cook 2 cups of dry quinoa. Either way is delicious! If I use the lesser amount of quinoa, I like to also amp up the content of this salad with some feta cheese and a can of drained, rinsed garbanzo beans. Delicious!

1-2 cups uncooked quinoa
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups roughly chopped Italian parsley, with tender stems
1 cup whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup finely diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia (I sometimes use more because I LOVE them)

Before cooking the quinoa, rinse very well in a fine-mesh colander for at least 30 seconds. Place in a pot using a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water. If you are cooking 1 cup of dry quinoa, then add 2 cups of water. If you are cooking 2 cups of dry quinoa, add 4 cups of water. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt for every cup of quinoa. Set the pot, uncovered, over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, checking frequently, for about 10-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. The time will vary depending on your cooking equipment. When the water is all absorbed, remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let the quinoa steam while you prepare the dressing.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, honey, pepper, salt, and garlic. Gradually add the olive oil while whisking vigorously until the dressing has thickened and all oil is incorporated.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and add to the dressing. Add the chopped onions, almonds, and parsley. Toss well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Serve immediately or allow to chill! It's delicious either way as long as you're not 4-years-old and picky.


  1. Monica, I have used my rice cooker for making quinoa. I think it works great. Colleen

    1. When you use your rice cooker, do you keep the proportions the same?