Mexican Quinoa Salad & Grilled Shrimp

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I think most of us are feeling a little post-holiday guilt this time of year so let's get back to some guilt-free dishes!  This post was inspired by the #SexyShred trend that is spreading on Twitter courtesy of blogger @FeministaJones, who is motivating others to live a healthier lifestyle by way of exercise and clean eating.  Those who joined #SexyShred received a few exclusive recipes of mine that I was happy to share in support of such a positive movement. For my Kitchenista Diaries readers, I wanted to share another healthy dish that won't leave you feeling heavy or stuffed, but will fill you up. One of my friends emailed me a few recipes for quinoa awhile back so I've been meaning to try it out. I was surprised at the nutritional value these little seeds pack, and that they are technically not a whole grain as I'd always thought. Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is gluten-free and one of the few plant-based foods known as a "complete protein," ideal for anybody on a low-carb diet as well as vegetarians and vegans needing to maximize their protein intake. You cook quinoa in a way that's similar to rice, but less simmering time. Many of the recipes I've seen reminded me of the way couscous is prepared, so I figured it wouldn't be difficult to come up with something easy and tasty the first time around. I was wrong! First round, I made some chickpea & quinoa veggie burgers, which would have been great had the quinoa not had a slightly bitter after taste. I went back to the drawing board after finding a helpful article about making fluffy quinoa on theKitchn, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites for cooking tips. Immediately I realized my fateful error was not rinsing the quinoa long enough. When you make quinoa, I can't stress the importance enough of not skipping that step (it also can't hurt to soak your quinoa if you have the time, although some say this isn't a necessary step.)

On its own, the Mexican Quinoa Salad is vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. I served it for a light dinner with spiced grilled shrimp, mostly for gratuitous use of my new toy, the Le Creuset Cassis Square Grill Pan, which I can recommend with as much enthusiasm as I did the 10" cast iron skillet featured in my last post. I have finally graduated beyond the George Foreman grill, ladies and gentleman! If you live in an apartment or otherwise don't have access to an outdoor grill, a cast-iron grill pan would be a seriously worthy upgrade in your kitchen. Much like a cast-iron skillet, it retains heat incredibly well. This means unlike most indoor electric grills, this grill pan actually gets hot and stays hot throughout the cooking process. Because of that, your food gets cooked properly, enabling you to get the flavor and grill marks reminiscent of outdoor cooking. Our George Foreman grill will probably still get some use around here, but that will be relegated to kid-friendly meals like the grilled sandwiches my son likes to create. For true indoor grilling, a cast-iron grill pan is the way to go.

Don't fret though. For this recipe, a cast-iron skillet or other heavy bottomed skillet is going to give you great results for seared shrimp, as an alternative to grilling. Because at the end of the day, we're here to make good food. If you see a recipe that you like, but you don't have the right equipment, figure out how you can adjust it to what you do have. Can you season the ingredients per the recipe, but cook it in a different way? Sure, in this case we can. Learn to adapt. You'll find a wider range of recipes out there at your disposal if you learn to tweak them for what you have in your own kitchen. So anyway, you've gotta try this shrimp. I mean just look at imagine the scent of fragrant Mexican spices mingling with the subtle smoke of the skillet and sizzling coconut oil. You're going to want to try this one.

Mexican Quinoa Salad & Grilled Shrimp

1 c. dry organic quinoa, rinsed and drained*
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. veg broth
1 T. coconut oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 can organic black beans, rinsed & drained (or 1 1/2 c. soaked & cooked black beans)
1 c. diced bell peppers, various colors
1 - 2 jalapenos, seeded & diced (for a spicier salad, just thinly slice the jalapenos)
1/2 c. finely chopped cilantro

For the vinaigrette:
4 tbsp coconut oil
Juice & zest of 1 large lime
1 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar**
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

For the shrimp:
1 lb large or jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. ground Chipotle or Mexican chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lime
Kosher salt, to taste

*Prior to cooking, dried quinoa should be rinsed extremely well in cold water until the water runs clear. This removes the saponin, a natural chemical extract which protects the quinoa from predators. It can leave a bitter taste if not rinsed. For best results use a fine mesh strainer and use your hand to swish the quinoa around in the water to really get in there. Most packages will say you do not need to soak the quinoa first, but I had better results soaking for 20 minutes before rinsing the water.

**Rice wine vinegar adds a slight sweetness. If gluten-free is a concern you'll want to make sure the rice wine vinegar used is gluten-free. Your preferred vinegar can be substituted. 

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Equipment Needed: Small pot, skillet or cast-iron grill pan

In a small pot over medium heat, add the coconut oil. Once hot, add minced garlic and half of the diced onions. Cook until onions soften, 2-3 min.

Add quinoa and kosher salt, stirring constantly until lightly toasted, 3-4 min.

Add vegetable broth, bring to boil then cover loosely to allow steam to escape. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-12 min until liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 min, covered.

Fluff cooked quinoa and transfer to your serving bowl, allowing it to cool while prepping remaining ingredients.

To prepare the vinaigrette, finely mince the 2 garlic cloves then use your knife to smash the garlic into a paste. This will help the vinaigrette to emulsify (a fancy way of saying it will prevent the oil and vinegar from separating.)

In a small bowl, combine the lime zest, lime juice, vinegar, garlic paste, cumin and cayenne, then whisk in the coconut oil. Season to taste with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Coconut oil solidifies when it is cool, so it is best to use room temperature ingredients. The vinaigrette can be gently warmed for a few seconds if necessary to soften the oil; just place your bowl in a larger bowl of warm water and whisk.

Add the black beans, peppers, remaining onions, and jalapeno to the quinoa. Toss with the vinaigrette and cilantro. By the way, the salad stores well in the fridge and can be eaten warm at room temperature or cold, so take those leftovers with you to lunch!  I like to freshen it up with extra lime the next day.

Since the salad can be eaten warm or cold, you can do the shrimp before or after - if you want hot grilled shrimp, save that for the last thing you do as it only takes a few minutes to cook shrimp. As you heat up your grill pan, toss the peeled shrimp with the coconut oil, spices, and a good pinch or two of kosher salt.

In batches, grill the shrimp 1-2 minutes on the first side depending on the size. When the shrimp has seared on one side and has turned opaque, that's when you know to flip it over and finish grilling another minute on the other side. Nobody wants overcooked shrimp, so don't walk away from these.

Squeeze some fresh lime over the shrimp as you're taking it off the grill. Try to let it get to your plate before eating it.

I served the shrimp & quinoa with ripe plantains, pan fried in coconut oil. I didn't include this as part of the recipe, but if you're interested in adding that to your plate it's pretty easy to do so. Just peel a ripe (blackened) plantain and slice it on a bias.

While you heat a skillet to medium high, sprinkle a little cinnamon over the plantain slices. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to the skillet.

Fry the plantains on each side until golden brown, about 5 minutes or so total. Transfer to plate. I like to sprinkle a small pinch of kosher salt and squeeze some fresh lime juice over my hot plantains.

That's it...serve and enjoy. Make your plate as pretty as you want with some extra cilantro and lime as garnish. To serve the quinoa salad in a molded shape like I did, just pack it into a small cup or bowl so the quinoa is level with the top of the cup. Place your serving plate over the cup, and holding the cup, flip the plate over so the cup is now inverted over your plate. Carefully lift up the cup to reveal the quinoa salad!

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