Why It Works
- Cooking the quinoa until just barely tender preserves its texture when tossed with the vinaigrette.
- The tart punch of this salad is deepened and modulated by six different ingredients: sumac, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dried tart cherries, and pomegranate seeds all lend distinct sour flavors. Feta cheese adds its own lactic tang as well.
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. Here, we are only interested in inventive, refreshing grain salads: full of flavor, and perfect for summer. Our goal is to make believers out of naysayers and give inspiration to those already converted. This recipe is part of a series on grain salads by Jennifer Olvera.
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. The mix of tart, dried cherries, mint, parsley, salty feta, and pomegranate seeds is absolutely irresistible.
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.
- For the Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup fresh juice from 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Salad:
- 2 cups cooked, drained, and cooled quinoa (see notes)
- 1/3 cup chopped dried tart cherries
- 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta
- 1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
For the Vinaigrette: Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl, seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Reserve.
For the Salad: Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add vinaigrette a few tablespoons at a time and tossing between additions until salad is dressed. Serve immediately at room temperature.
It's important not to overcook the quinoa: remove it from the heat as soon as it's lost its bite and drain thoroughly.
Make-Ahead and Storage
You can cook the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate it. This salad is best dressed shortly before serving since quinoa is more delicate than other grains. Bring to room temperature before serving.