Summer Grain Salads: Quinoa Salad With Dried Tart Cherries, Mint, and Feta in Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette

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This Middle Eastern-inspired salad takes quinoa to refreshing heights, thanks to a bold, sumac-kissed vinaigrette. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Grains can be a polarizing food, but whether you love them or hate them, we can all agree on one thing: boring grain dishes should be tossed out with the chaff. This week-long series is all about inventive, refreshing grain salads: full of flavor, and perfect for summer. If we have one basic goal here, it's to make believers out of naysayers, and give inspiration to those already converted.

If you ask me, fattoush is one of the best things in the world: It's bright, crunchy, and colorful. Plus, it has a bracing vinaigrette I just adore. With that in mind, this quinoa salad takes those same Middle Eastern flavors and ties them together with a sumac-laced lemon vinaigrette. Fortunately, the mix of tart, dried cherries, mint, parsley, salty feta, and pomegranate seeds is enough to make you forget you're eating healthy.

I prepared my quinoa in the microwave according to the package directions and found it worked quite well, though it required a longer cooking time than the directions suggested. The standard ratio of two parts water to one part grain, however, was just right. Be sure to let the quinoa cool before adding the ingredients and dressing the salad. In fact, making it ahead of time and refrigerating it for a few hours is wise.

The salad dressing, made with a brightly acidic lemon vinaigrette, is spiked with sumac—a unique spice from the ground fruit of a flowering shrub. It imparts a bold, tart flavor that, in my mind, you shouldn't do without. I realize that not everyone lives near a Middle Eastern market; however, you can (and really should) purchase some online. It's available on Amazon as well as from purveyors such as The Spice House and Penzeys. Once you have it, you'll find other uses—believe me. If you so choose, though, you may omit it from the recipe and it'll still work out fine.

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