This is a perfect fall salad. It is delightfully fresh, but very hearty as well. The fresh cilantro, toasty pecans, sweet dried cranberries, crunchy celery, and nutty quinoa with a tangy and slightly sweet toasted sesame dressing – yum! Also, there’s a lot of room for substitutions in this recipe. Try substituting half the lemon juice with freshly squeezed orange juice. I’ve listed a few other suggestions in the ingredients list with my favorites listed first (I used walnuts instead of pecans this time because it's what I had on hand).
If you make the quinoa, dressing, and toast the pecans the night before, this salad comes together really quickly. Otherwise, prep the dressing and veggies, and toast the pecans while the quinoa is cooking and cooling to make everything for maximum efficiency. The recipe makes a good amount of salad, so it’s great for bringing to potlucks or having in the fridge for quick meals and snacks for a few days. It also makes a lot of dressing so you’ll have plenty left over to drizzle on individual portions. I like to serve it over salad greens with avocado on the side or in a wrap, again with avocado (I seriously put avocado on almost everything…so there is that).
Toasted Sesame Quinoa Salad
2 cups quinoa
4 cups water
1 low sodium vegetable bouillon cube (optional)
or 8 cups cooked quinoa
2 bunches green onions
3 cups chopped celery
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5-6 lemons)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar or sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
several turns freshly ground black pepper
For the quinoa: Begin by putting 4 cups of water in a pot to boil. While you’re waiting, put the quinoa in a fine meshed strainer and rinse thoroughly for a couple minutes. Then dump the quinoa into the water – it doesn’t matter if it isn’t boiling yet. If you’d like to add a bouillon cube, now’s when you do it. Cover and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook covered until all the water is absorbed (around 20 minutes). Just keep an eye on it so the bottom doesn’t burn. Once it’s done, remove from stove and allow to cool. To quicken cooling, spread the quinoa out in a large, shallow dish.
For the dressing: Place all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Alternatively, place garlic in a food processor and pulse. Add all other ingredients except the oils. Blend well. Stream the oils in while continuing to blend. Transfer to the fridge to cool.
Toasted Pecans: Coarsely chop the pecans. Preheat a pan over medium-low heat. Put the pecans in the pan, and toast them for about 3-4 minutes stirring often. Watch them closely because they’ll burn really quickly. As soon as they’re done, immediately transfer to a bowl to cool.
Assemble: Chop the green onions, celery, and cilantro. Place cooled quinoa in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and gently toss. Pour in a little over half of the dressing. Add the toasted pecans and dried cranberries and stir gently to avoid making the quinoa mushy.
Serve: The quinoa will absorb a lot of the dressing the longer it is sets or is refrigerated. This is why you have left over dressing! If serving as part of a salad, drizzle a couple tablespoons of dressing over each portion before serving. If you’re serving the salad potluck style, just before serving add more dressing (starting with 1/4 cup) and taste to determine whether or not more dressing is needed.