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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Picture-perfect salad

As the weather warms up this week, I find myself craving salads. Yesterday's lunch consisted of diced chicken breast tossed with herb-garlic cheese and bacon-tomato ranch dressing over spinach greens with a garnish of pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries. It sounds weird, but I promise it was tasty.

The pumpkin seeds, however, reminded me of another salad that I tried about a month ago at an office potluck. This salad, called an Aztec Platter, features quinoa, corn and beans. Quinoa is a grain known for having been a staple food of the Aztecs. It's one of the few plant sources that is a complete protein, meaning it has all the amino acids essential for the human body.

Quinoa has a mild flavor and aroma, and cooks into a light, fluffy texture in only 15 minutes. And that makes this vegetarian salad the perfect light lunch or dinner that won't heat up the house in the warmer months.

Aztec Platter
(Serves 6)

Quinoa-corn salad
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 cup thawed frozen corn kernels
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 or 3 scallions, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bean salad
1 pound canned beans (pinto, pink or kidney), drained and rinsed
1 heaping cup finely diced ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pumpkin seeds
Black olives
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Add the quinoa and simmer gently, covered, for 15 minutes. When the quinoa is done, remove it from the heat, fluff it with a fork, and transfer it to a mixing bowl. Combine the quinoa with the remaining ingredients for the quinoa-corn salad and toss well.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, combine all the ingredients for the bean salad in another bowl and toss together.

3. To assemble the Aztec Platter, transfer the quinoa-corn salad onto a large platter and spread evenly to within an inch or so of the edge. Pushing the salad outward from the center, make a well in the center of the platter about 5 inches in diameter. Mound the bean salad into the well and sprinkle it with a handful of pumpkin seeds. Note: You can also add feta cheese for a burst of flavor.

4. Using above photo as a guide, arrange olives and pepper strips around the edge of the platter.

Calories: 233
Total fat: 4g
Protein: 9g
Carbs: 40g
Cholesterol: 0g
Sodium: 9mg

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