Nothing Should Be Boring About Beans: Greek-style Chickpea and Quinoa Salad
A few posts ago, I mentioned that beans are one of the foods that encourage a healthy body composition, discouraging the accumulation of fat in the abdominal cavity, around the organs. They also stabilize blood sugar levels and provide a great deal of fiber and protein, as well as a host of minerals and antioxidants. They have a nutrient density second only to fruits and green vegetables. With few exceptions, everybody should be eating beans every day. And that is the simple fact of the matter.
Unfortunately, in the United States, beans have something of a poor reputation. They make you gassy (sometimes true at first, if you are not used to eating them, but if you make them a regular part of your diet, this side effect will subside. And whatever you do, don’t eat the thick liquid that comes with canned beans!) They’re full of carbs (don’t even get me started on this one.) And most of all, beans are boring and bland. It’s this myth that really drives me crazy. There is no reason for beans to ever be boring and bland! Beans are one of the most versatile foods that we humans have the privilege of eating; there are so many ways to prepare them that I am certain you could eat beans every day for a year and never make the same recipe twice. (Maybe five years.) And none of those preparations would have to taste in any way bland.
Chickpeas are one of my very favorite beans, right up there with lentils. I love them so. And I especially love them in this salad. They combine with the other ingredients in such a lovely way, such a delectable, flavorful way, that you might just become addicted. Everybody loves this salad. In addition to its deliciousness, it’s filling and packed with nutrients—I make it when I’m craving protein and it fills me with a sense of nourishment and well-being. It makes a great lunch on its own, over leafy greens, or wrapped up in a tortilla with hummus (more chickpeas!) For dinner, we usually eat it with a side of blanched broccoli. And if you have a potluck to attend, this dish makes a wonderful addition to a spread.
A word about dried versus canned chickpeas. If you like canned chickpeas, go for it, knock yourself out and use them. But if you think you don’t really care for chickpeas, then please go ahead and cook some from scratch and try them again. I thought for the longest time that I didn’t care for chickpeas, until I worked at Blossoming Lotus after culinary school, and we made huge batches from scratch and tossed them with olive oil and salt. So savory and piquant, and without that funny flavor that chickpeas seem to get when they sit in their own cooking liquid in a can for a long time.
Please try them again. They are so good and good for you. You might be surprised.
Greek-style Chickpea and Quinoa Salad
No one will sue you if you just approximate the measurements here. I certainly always do. This is a salad, after all. We regularly double (triple, whatever) the batch and keep it in the fridge to eat from all week. For a vegan dish, simply omit the feta cheese.
1 and ½ cups cooked chickpeas (½ cup dried)
2 cups cooked quinoa (2/3 cup dried)
½ red onion, diced small
½ large cucumber (or 1 small), diced small
½ cup crumbled feta cheese (raw, from sheep or goat’s milk, tastes best)
½ cup chopped kalamata olives
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
1/3 cup mint leaves, minced
Juice of one lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced, pressed or grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Toss chickpeas, quinoa, onion, cucumber, cheese, olives, mint, and parsley together in a large bowl. If you want more of something, by all means, add more!
2. Whisk garlic, lemon, mustard and olive oil together, or shake it all together in a jar. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
3. Toss the chickpea and quinoa mixture with the dressing until well-combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Eat right away if you’re starving, or wait 1/2 hour or so to allow the flavors to marry. Just as tasty, or possibly more so, the next day.