Black Bean & Quinoa Salad

Summer has finally arrived!  With it comes enough free time to resume cooking and an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs matched with a desire to get back to healthy eating. Perfect time to test out one of the so-called “super-foods” I haven’t tried before: quinoa. During our recent visit to Costco, we came across a 4 lb. bag of quinoa at a price under my splurge point for random foods.  Since I’ve heard so much about this amazing grain, I thought it was worth a try and picked up a bag without any clue how to cook it or what it really was. Turns out, quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, but the rest of the rumors were correct: it is indeed a super food. Gluten free, it is high in protein, fiber, iron, and more!

With all the healthy hype, I was prepared for it to not taste great. It sort of made me think of oatmeal; I know it’s good for me, but I have to force myself to eat it in its unadulterated, healthy form (I like it when it’s mixed with brown sugar, honey, syrup, or piles of cinnamon and sugar, but then it’s not so healthy anymore). I was willing to give quinoa a fair chance though and hunted online for well-reviewed recipes to try.  Attempt #1, an adaptation of several recipes I encountered, was a hit with both Monkey and I. Monkey said he loved how fresh and light it tasted and even went back for seconds.  This was a perfect light summer meal, but would be equally nice as a side dish.

Black Bean & Quinoa Salad:

Black Bean & Quinoa Salad

Look at all the colors!

Black Bean & Quinoa Salad Recipe:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup Quinoa

1 cup Water (add more for higher elevations, less for extremely low elevations)

1 tablespoon Olive oil

4-5 teaspoons Lime juice
 (depending on taste)

1/4 heaping teaspoon Cumin

1/4 heaping teaspoon Ground coriander

1 tablespoon Fresh cilantro; finely chopped (double it if you like cilantro)

2 tablespoons Scallions; minced

1 can (15 oz size) Black beans; drained

2 cups fresh tomatoes; diced
 or 1 can diced tomatoes; well draineds

1 cup red, orange, or yellow bell peppers; diced

2 teaspoons Fresh green chiles; minced or 2 heaping tablespoons; canned

1 dash each salt and pepper; to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse the quinoa well in a fine sieve under cool running water. Be careful, because the seeds are small! Our normal colander’s holes were too large.
  2. Put rinsed quinoa and 1 cup water in rice cooker and set to cook. If you have additional settings on your rice cooker, set it to cook just like white rice.
  3. While the quinoa cooks, stir oil, lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro and scallions in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, peppers and chiles.
  4. Add cooled quinoa, and salt and pepper. Then pour the cilantro sauce and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with lemon slices, lime wedges, or whole cilantro leaves.

Serves 3-4.

Note: We didn’t wait for the quinoa to cool and ate immediately. It was delicious! If you have access to fresh tomatoes and green chiles, by all means use them. We used the canned for this first go round and it was delicious. I’ll be testing out more quinoa recipes as we work our way through the 4 lb. bag. I was especially happy to use some of our home grown cilantro in this recipe!

Warm weather + shopping = Gardening Time

Costco had three packs of small blueberry plants for sale recently.  With Spring’s warm weather and the promise of fresh picked fruit through the summer beckoning, I could hardly resist.  When we brought the blueberry bushes home, we realized that they were actually three different varieties of blueberry: Sunshine Blue, Jewel, and Emerald.

All three are Southern Highbush variety that will supposedly thrive in warmer weather.  We don’t get much frost in Northern California, so I’ll have to hope that the few cold days we do have are enough to encourage the plant to bear fruit.  Since they prefer acidic soil, I added the fertilizer I use for my gardenia and azalea plants.  Since I don’t have much room for plantings, one blueberry was planted in the empty spot of soil next to the gardenia where we grew zucchini last year (never again!) and the other blueberries are in pots.

Since we bought the blueberries, we had to buy some additional pots this weekend.  While we were pot shopping, I got distracted by the annuals and we ended up buying some plants, necessitating a couple more pots.  By the time we got out of the store, we had a lot of gardening to do.  We spent Sunday workin and have the garden almost set up for the Spring/Summer season now.  This year, we’ve got the following in the garden:

Continuing from last year:

Potted:

– dwarf Meyer Lemon tree

– Two full size roses

– succulents

– mint

– jasmine (finally managed to keep it alive longer than a year!)

– asparagus fern

– some Astilbe bulbs I planted over a year ago that didn’t sprout last year, so I gave up and threw away the tags but now are sprouting like mad

In the Dirt:

– Azalea

– White Bacopa

– Alstroemerias planted from tubers

– Gardenia

New Additions:

– Basil

– Cilantro

– Radishes

– Blueberries

We’ve had an on-going battle to enjoy our backyard/back patio.  First of all, it’s incredibly tiny so if the space isn’t planned well, there is no space to do anything.  I’ve seen what some neighbors did with their similarly minute spots, and their efforts range from leaving it basically empty except for cement and a chair or two, using the space as storage and never going in unless looking for an item or passing through to the back door, to planting so much in there that it is an elaborate jungle into which only the neighborhood cats dare enter or some combination of the three.  One summer, everything in the backyard died because Monkey and I got married, left on a fairly long honeymoon, traveled for a bit, then left again to participate in a friend’s wedding.  By the time the summer was over, almost everything had wilted.  The lone survivor was the white bacopa the previous residents had stuck in the dirt, still in their pots.  If you are ever thinking of trying this: don’t.  While the small white flowers are pretty, the green tentacles the plant will spread out dig themselves back into the ground and spread, making it very difficult to pick up the pot again to move it.  Anyways, cutting back all of the dead and dying plants made me feel horribly guilty and determined to do better the next growing season.  I was going to water my plants, pamper them!

The next summer, we renovated our kitchen, which meant we had to renovate the whole downstairs (small house, open floor plan), which meant a lot of construction occurred on our tiny little patio.  The plants were not only coated with  sawdust and powdered granite, but they received no water.  My only excuse is that I couldn’t get to the plants!  So much stuff was stored out there that I couldn’t see the plants, let alone get to them with a watering can.

Finally, last summer, we realized something had to change.  After spending several hours digging up dead plants and amending the little soil we had, we put in a drip system.   I also came to the realization that I don’t like bacopa that much.  Don’t get me wrong, I like bacopa.  It’s cute and pretty, and so darn hard to kill it was the only thing left alive and growing in my garden at that point.  The problem was that since it was the only thing left alive and so incredibly hardy, it had taken over almost all the available soil and was growing everywhere.  Monkey’s step-mom had some extra alstroemeria tubers on her hands that she had dug up but didn’t want to toss (gotta love recycling plants), so I finally gave myself permission to dig up the one plant I hadn’t already killed.  I did leave some, but I freed up enough space for us to grow mini-tomatoes and zucchini, as well as plant the azalea we received from Monkey’s mom as a gift and a gardenia.  The tomato and zucchini plants loved their spots in their dirt.  The cherry tomato plant, called Sun Sugar, went crazy and grew over 6 feet tall, 8 feet long, 3 feet wide.  I couldn’t reach all of the ripe tomatoes, which fortunately turn a bright orange color when ripe, so we happily shared some with the birds.  If you’re looking for a cherry tomato plant that will produce insane amounts of fruit from only one plant, Sun Sugar is the one for you.  We gifted bowlful after bowlful to everyone around us and still had more than enough for our own consumption.  We’ll be planting another Sun Sugar tomato plant soon.  The zucchini also grew to huge proportions, with leaves that easily could have served as diapers for small children had they had a nicer texture.  Unfortunately, we didn’t like the taste of our home grown zucchini and preferred the taste of those we could buy at the local farmer’s markets or grocery stores.  At that point, why grow it at home?

When planning my garden, I tried to focus on bringing in all of the senses.  I wanted everything I planted to not only be beautiful to look at, but also appeal on some other level.  After all, with such a small garden, I wanted everything to count.  So I picked pots in beautiful shades of dark blue or copper glaze, with a few plain terracotta mixed in.  To keep it light, I also added some pots in a nice shade of teal, an appealing green blue shade, with some interesting glazing techniques.  Some of the plants produce beautiful scents (jasmine, gardenia, roses, meyer lemon), some are lovely to touch (asparagus fern, some fuzzy  succulents), and some are edible (basil, lemon, mint, cilantro).  To bring in sound, I hung a Soleri bell I picked up in Arizona and hope to someday find just the right fountain.  We also enjoy listening to the birds attracted to the flowers and fruit in the yard and plan to put up a bird feeder soon.

I’m looking forward to uploading pictures and watching to see how this summer’s garden grows.