Greek Quinoa Salad

This recipe is my attempt at recreating the Quinoa Salad at Zoe's, a Greek restaurant I absolutely love and eat at often. Their Greek salads are enormous, overflowing with fresh vegetables and warm grilled chicken and caramelized onions. These big protein- and fiber-packed salads will keep you full for hours and are so big you may need help finishing one. Zoe's mixes a scoop of pasta salad into their Greek salads, but if you ask, they'll use their Quinoa Salad instead. I opt for Quinoa over pasta because it's a gluten-free grain. Okay, technically quinoa is a seed, not a grain, but more on that in a minute.

For some guidance, I loosely followed a Bobby Flay recipe for Greek Quinoa Salad and then made a few changes. For example, I doubled the amount of cucumber to bump up the veggie content. Cucumbers are a non-starchy vegetable, which means you can eat them in unlimited amounts when eating for fat loss. It gives the salad a little more volume without adding a lot of extra calories I added an extra pickled pepper and 1/4 c. of chopped pepperoncini peppers for a little extra spice and because I love anything that's pickled! 

The result? You guys. This stuff is so delicious! I will definitely be bringing big bowls of this colorful, flavorful salad to cookouts and parties this Spring and Summer! It would make a great side to any grilled meat, poultry or seafood. The dressing really brings it all together and I may make the dressing again just to have it on hand for other salads! If you have a dairy allergy or are avoiding cheese, I taste-tested it before adding the Feta cheese and it's even amazing without it! 

Preparation Tip: Soak Quinoa Overnight

Soaking grains, beans, and seeds in an acid medium at a warm temperature activates the enzyme phytase, making the grain more nutritious and more digestible. In addition, soaking helps to reduce or even eliminate phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in grains, beans, and seeds that binds to minerals and prevents your body from absorbing them.

Add the raw quinoa to a large bowl and cover with enough warm water to cover. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and then cover tightly and leave it on your kitchen counter to soak overnight or up to 24 hours. Drain in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cool water.  


INGREDIENTS

3 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 clove garlic, finely chopped to a paste
1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup quinoa, soaked overnight and rinsed (SEE NOTE ABOVE)
Kosher salt and pepper
2 cups red and yellow grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
3 pickled cherry peppers, diced
1/4 c. sliced pepperoncini peppers, drained
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced small
Feta, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

1. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, garlic and some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the salad.

2. Combine the soaked and rinsed quinoa, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Transfer cooked quinoa to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Let it rest for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Add the tomatoes, olives, cherry peppers, pepperoncini peppers, cucumbers and dressing and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours before serving. The longer it sits the better the flavor.

4. Just before serving, transfer to a platter and sprinkle feta on top.