A number of weeks ago two things coincided. One, I developed a sudden desire for beetroot. This is a very odd craving indeed. Beetroot is strongly, almost overpoweringly earthy, and difficult to cook – I find it takes much longer than most recipes give to actually go tender, especially when the recipe requires you to wrap it in foil and bake. In the UK it’s often sold cooked and vacuum-packed, pickled in strong, malty vinegar: an acquired taste by any means. However, I decided to go with the flow and bought a packet on the way home from work.
The day after I bought the beetroot was, coincidentally, a working from home day (I’m lucky enough to have one a week), so, come lunchtime, I could contentedly potter around my kitchen and pull something together based on all the delicious things in my cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl. The result was this colourful, punchy salad, which combines lots of great things. Firstly, the base is quinoa, a slightly grassy seed (a renowned superfood, it is often mistakenly referred to as a grain) which offers a high protein content (in fact it is a complete protein, rare in plant-based foods), as well as a relatively high micronutrient content, packing in particularly high levels of folic acid. I also like the taste, which is ever-so-faintly bitter. I combined this with the beetroot I’d bought – they were small, tender, and only gently pickled, lending some heft and a slightly acidic tang to the mixture. The flavour was punched up with some spring onions and rocket which were knocking around the fridge, and a slosh of lemon juice: sharp, peppery, bright. The whole was brought together with the cool, creamy blandness of avocado – such a calm flavour – and the lactic savour of feta cheese. Well, I used light feta (the taste was indistinguishable from regular, if you ask me), but you should feel free to use the regular kind. Halloumi or soft goat’s cheese would also pair beautifully with the grains and beetroot.
Eating quinoa, despite it receiving many a clean-eating stamp of approval, is not without its controversies – the export of this staple Andean crop for superfood-hungry Americans and Europeans is sending the price skyrocketing, meaning that local people in countries like Bolivia and Peru, where the crop is traditionally grown, can no longer afford it. Obviously, there are serious tensions and difficulties surrounding the export (or restriction thereof!) of many foods around the world. I personally don’t eat quinoa very often so am as comfortable with my consumption levels as I can be; the issue is complex and the boom in the export of quinoa can help communities as well as damage them.
I find that quinoa is satisfying but doesn’t always leave me full for very long. Combining it with the high-fat avocado (I feel compelled to use the magic words ‘good fat’ here! Avocado fat is cholesterol free) keeps me fuller for longer, and obviously the rocket and beetroot help bulk the salad out. I like crumbling the feta cheese very small so that it is well-distributed across the salad and to stretch it out, so that each mouthful has some cheese, rather than the first few.
Serves 2-4, depending on your hunger levels
- 150g quinoa (uncooked weight)
- 150g cooked, peeled beetroot – I used vacuum-packed baby beetroot which were pickled in ‘mild’ malt vinegar and this worked well, but use what you prefer
- 1 avocado (mine was around 160g flesh, total)
- 1 bunch spring onions (around 50g)
- 100g feta cheese or, in my case, light Greek-style cheese
- 80g rocket
- 2 TBS lemon juice
- Weigh out the quinoa and rinse it well. Quinoa is naturally coated with a light layer of saponin, so even if you usually don’t rinse grains, make sure to do so when cooking the quinoa.
- Place quinoa in a saucepan alongside 300ml water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally towards the end of the cooking time. At the end of cooking, I find that all the water has been absorbed and the grians are fluffy, but keep an eye on things and add a splash of boiling water (just from the kettle) if things are getting too dry. If the mixture is still very wet, just drain it.
- While the quinoa is cooking, chop up the beetroot into chunks (medium dice-ish) and halve the avocado, scoop out the flesh and chop it into similarly-sized pieces. Combine in a large bowl.
- Slice up the spring onions and add to the bowl. Cut or crumble the feta cheese into small pieces.
- Mix the cooked quinoa into the bowl and combine the beetroot, avocado, spring onions and quinoa well. Add in the rocket, tossing to combine. Add the lemon juice and feta cheese and combine again (I do it in these steps to ensure even distribution – I find combining and combining again does this best. If this seems too fussy for you, just toss all of the ingreidents together – it’s a salad!)