Weeknight Cooking

Southwestern Quinoa Salad, by Way of the Pantry

July 18, 2013

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: A story of found quinoa, and the pantry salad to end all pantry salads.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad from Food52

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Is it possible to have a least favorite part of moving? Because having a least favorite part would imply that that you had a favorite part. And who has a favorite part of moving?

Much like I love my children equally, I hate all parts of moving equally. Cleaning out the pantry is not my least favorite part, in other words. But it is the most depressing part. It’s like reading a diary you didn’t know you were keeping, and it reminds you of things you’d really hoped to forget. 

In the past week I have found: a bag of half-melted, amalgamated marshmallows; two cans of refried beans with horrible graphic design; and three bulk bags of flour, which at some point were shorn of their identifying twist ties and have since wandered through the freezer unwanted, inadvertent orphans. I have found four types of dal; five kinds of rice (dear Reader: why); six partially eaten packages of pasta; and a small, inexplicably unopened can of almond paste, which I think we moved here with. This raises a couple of serious concerns. First, what sort of people move a can of almond paste? Second, why would you ever not open a can of almond paste? It’s almond paste.

I also found a small bag of superfluous holiday candy I once hid from Isaiah, and which I’m only telling you about because he can’t read. 

More: This makes you want to clean out your pantry, doesn't it?

Quinoa and friends from Food52

The good news is that this has made planning dinner far easier: we make whatever I unearth. 

This is far easier because up until now, my system for planning dinner has been roughly this: like the person who sits down at his desk and before starting work tries to read the entire internet, I plan most dinners by trying to look through every single recipe in every single cookbook I own. Meanwhile, the baby unspools the entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet, giggling maniacally.

I assume that right now you are writing down this tip for yourself: try to look through every recipe… 

I have too many options. Most of us do. I have written about this and childrearing: at no point in human history has anyone had as many parenting choices as we have now, which means it is a lot easier to go crazy. Having this many choices isn’t liberating. It’s paralyzing. 

You can run this experiment on any preschooler. List a dozen awesome things he could do today and then stand back and watch as the cooling fans in his brain fail and he slips irrevocably toward nuclear meltdown.

It’s the too many yogurt brands in the yogurt case problem, except when it comes to cooking, it isn’t metaphorical: sometimes there really are too many yogurt brands in the yogurt case. I am still a preschooler sometimes: I need fewer choices or I melt down too.

All of which is to say: while cleaning out the pantry, I found some quinoa, so I made quinoa salad. The toilet paper remained spooled. Who knew you could live like this?

I hadn’t known we had quinoa. I wasn’t even sure if it was still edible. Can quinoa go bad? It smells like dust, I said to my wife, Anya. Is it supposed to smell like dust?

Quinoa, like kale, has gone from unknown to cult obsession to cliché without ever being something that most people ate. Ours went into a splendid, vaguely southwestern salad, a riff on a Gourmet recipe: quinoa, beans, toasted corn, cherry tomatoes, feta, lime. (The corn, needless to say, had just been excavated from the freezer.) It was delicious.

We will not be making it again, though.

Here’s the problem: from a housekeeping perspective, quinoa is basically sand. It is tiny, and it is seemingly infinite, and if you have small children who accumulate and then discard small bits of detritus wherever they go, like the lovechild of Pigpen and Hansel and Gretel, it ends up everywhere. We have quinoa between the floorboards. We will make it again in a decade or when our children have mastered the mysterious art of moving their food from their plate to their mouth or in a decade, whatever comes first. Which means in a decade.

Until then, we stock the new house with gigante beans. I expect to unearth them in several years.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad from Food52

Southwestern Quinoa Salad, by Way of the Pantry

Serves 4

1 1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup corn (or two ears of corn, with the kernels sliced off)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 cup black beans, cooked
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup feta, crumbled
3 green onions, sliced (the whites and the greens)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 poblano chiles
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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  • Helen Piilonen
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I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


Helen P. September 21, 2016
Thank you for such good article. As I was reading it, I thought hmmmm, I bet t they're the same refried beans I have. With two large pantries in my basement you'd think I was hoarding for the next apocalypse. With my stores, I could make this recipe right now and even switch up the grains for say farro, or bulgar or couscous. The options are endless. Thank you for a great recipe and a great read.
Irenehope July 21, 2013
We currently have six types of rice in our pantry; white Basmati, brown Basmati, white Japanese, brown Japanese, Japanese sweet rice(mochi gome) and Arborio. We also have barley which gets mixed with the Japanese rice. There's sometimes also a Japanese rice that is half-brown that is harder to find, but is used up quickly when we do.
1natalplum July 21, 2013
Great writing, so fun to read! I love quinoa, and plan to make this soon. Thanks!
Dillon B. July 21, 2013
very funny blog. normally I find myself scrolling to the end just to look over the recipe in most food blog/recipe articles but I found myself thoroughly enjoying your writing style and humor. well done!
Gail H. July 21, 2013
I have a 72 year old husband and ‘rice falls’ for him, too. This is one of the reasons I have dogs. LOL

The recipe sounds delicious and I will need to purchase only the poblanos to make it. My pantry runneth over also.
Fairmount_market July 19, 2013
Great salad. We have a family saying, based on the sage observation made by a two year old in a high chair upon receiving a disapproving look from a much older dinner companion: "rice falls." This saying applies to many things in life, but in particular, grains and toddlers.
EmilyC July 18, 2013
Great column and salad! We have an unknown quantity of farro between our floorboards from my 15-mo daughter, so I can completely relate to the housekeeping considerations of making said salad.