Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

Staying with this week’s birthday buffet theme, here’s a versatile and healthy dish that is as perfect for parties as it is for weeknight, make-ahead suppers. It’s one of those nice additions to any plate, both tender and crunchy, salty and tangy, a nice combination of flavors that complements just about any main dish from grilled chicken to poached fish to roasted pork. It’s also nice on its own as a quick lunch or dinner on-the-run.

I began developing this recipe earlier in the summer and have made it for a number of get-togethers now. When friends started asking for the recipe I realized I needed to fine-tune it and get it posted!

I’ve made it both with and without goat cheese, so depending on your dietary preferences feel free to tweak as you wish. If you prefer something like a crumbled feta to goat cheese, substitute that. This recipe is vegetarian but can easily be tailored as a vegan dish if the cheese is left out. It is gluten-free as well, which your gluten-sensitive guests will appreciate.

Rice and Quinoa Salad - the no-cheese version

Rice and Quinoa Salad – the no-cheese version

It’s also a great introduction to quinoa if you’ve been a little hesitant to try it. Quinoa is a nutritious South American seed that is sometimes likened to whole grains like barley or bulgur (tabbouleh, anyone?) because of how it is prepared in boiling water. It is high in protein and all nine amino acids. The outer layer of the quinoa seed, which is removed before it is packaged, is very bitter so you should rinse your quinoa well before cooking to remove any residue. Correctly prepared, it has a fairly neutral taste and pleasant but tender “pop” in the mouth and soaks up the flavors of ingredients with which it is served. Pairing it with rice in a salad like this makes it very approachable for the less-adventurous at the buffet table, and they get all the health benefits of this so-called perfect food.

On the buffet

On the buffet

This is, unfortunately for us, an example of a recipe that our girls are a little too timid to try (what was I thinking putting radishes AND parsley in with unsuspecting rice and quinoa?), but quite a few of the kids who try this like it a lot.  Take the four-year-old birthday boy for whose party we made this: though his mom had to twist his arm to get the first fork-full into him because of all the little green bits mixed in with the rice, he — and I quote his mommy here — “gobbled up a whole bowl and for the next hour told me how much he loves parsley.”

Go parsley! Go quinoa! What better birthday present is there, really, than good health and good food. Except, perhaps, Transformers action figures. For the four-year-old boy in all of us.

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

3 cups long-grain white rice (Basmati, etc.), rinsed until the water runs clear
1 cup quinoa, well-rinsed to remove any of the white powder that settles on the grains during processing
3 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 cup pine nuts, toasted on the stove top (be careful not to burn them while toasting)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
8 ounces firm goat cheese, crumbled (optional if you want to prepare this as dairy-free)

Cook the rice and quinoa together in a large pot in approximately 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.  Remove from the heat, drain any extra liquid from the pot and fluff the rice and quinoa mixture with a fork. Alternatively, cook the rice and quinoa together in a rice cooker (as I did), filling the rice cooker with as much water as you would use to normally cook four cups of rice. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before proceeding.

Make the dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, lime juice, olive oil and a generous pinch of Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl.

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

When the rice and quinoa is still barely warm (not hot), transfer to a large mixing bowl and combine with the sliced radishes (separate them if they are sticking together), Kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, parsley, and the lemon/lime dressing. Mix well to evenly distribute all the ingredients throughout the salad. Crumble in the goat cheese if using and mix thoroughly. Taste and correct for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Radishes go in....

Radishes go in….

Serve at room temperature.

Serves: 10 – 15. This recipe feeds a large crowd but can be easily halved or even quartered for a smaller family meal.

Kid rating: Oooo, this one is hard to pin down. Most kids try this, bypassing the radishes, and like it. Three solid stars, and sometimes four. Our girls are more in the one to two star camp since the parsley (it’s green!) and radishes are just a little too obvious on the plate. But give it a try with the kids in your house. I’m curious to hear about what other kids think, so leave some comments!
Parent rating: four stars, pushing four-and-a-half for the healthy factor. I also love that this recipe is very adaptable. If you don’t like radishes, substitute something like cucumbers or chick peas. Throw in some halved cherry tomatoes if you’d like. Swap cilantro for the parsley. Include some diced garlic mixed in with the dressing. You can use the rice/quinoa base and lemon/lime dressing as the constants and just work around them with flavor combinations you enjoy.  Again, leave some comments if you try a version you like!

Penne with Italian Sausage, Summer Squash, Green Beans, Feta and Olives

This was another fast and easy beach house dinner, pulled together in the short time between coming in from the ocean and heading back out to the boardwalk in the evening (I recommend cooking with sand between your toes at least once in your life – it will do you well). It made good use of the farmer’s market veggies in the crisper as well as the pantry staples we’d brought with us.

Jersey fresh produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer's market

Jersey fresh produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer’s market

One pot, one sauté pan, and a cutting board. Prep and clean up were a snap.

Best of all, everyone liked this dish with daughter 1 calling it “yummy.” We even got both girls to try different flavor combinations (the feta with a bite of squash, a green bean with a bit of sausage…).

You could freelance on this recipe quite a bit with equally good results. We added just two links of Italian sweet sausage but this recipe could be made without meat just as easily. Use zucchini instead of summer squash. Put in a red or green bell pepper instead of the purple one I used. Or use an Italian frying pepper instead. Have some broccoli? Throw that it. Don’t like feta? Use goat cheese, or even cubed Parmesan. I think you’ll find it all works.

Full plate, pretty colors

Full plate, pretty colors

Have fun with this one! And then, go out and have some fun after dinner too.

Penne with Italian Sausage, Summer Squash, Green Beans, Feta and Olives

1/2 pound penne pasta
4 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (I used a purple bell pepper)
2 medium summer squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 cup green beans, washed and cut to 2-inch lengths
1 garlic clove, diced
2 sweet Italian sausage links, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
4 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon diced parsley

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne pasta according to directions.

As penne is cooking, heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat and add onion and bell pepper. Cook 1 – 2 minutes, until slightly softened, and add squash and green beans. Cook, stirring, until squash has begun to soften and brown slightly at the edges and green beans are tender – another 5 minutes. Add garlic and sausage and continue to cook another 3 – 4 minutes.

When pasta is done and drained, add it to the sauté pan with the vegetables and sausage. Mix in the feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and parsley, and serve.

Serves: 4 – 6

An almost-finished dinner

An almost-finished dinner

Kid rating: four-and-a-half stars. Plates were nearly cleaned at the end of the meal and we actually had good dinner table conversation about the ingredients and how they tasted. Daughter 1 talked about the “tang” of the cheese (really!). A win.
Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. For a quick and easy pasta/veggie dish, this was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while. Maybe it was the way the saltiness of the feta and olives complemented the squash, or how the sausage blended so nicely in with the other elements to create a bit of a sauce for the pasta. Regardless, this one is a keeper.

Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime…Calls For A Quick Greek Salad

It’s July. It’s hot. The kind of hot where the air shimmers and the wrens roost deep in the dense forsythia all afternoon. Too hot to weed the garden (though that is just this week’s excuse…last week it was too rainy). Too hot to do much but think about salads. Veggies, cool and crisp, mixed and dressed. If you’re lucky, you can ask your kids to harvest a couple of ingredients from your garden. My garden is under-producing on cucumbers and the cherry tomatoes are still green, so we had to dig deep into the crisper drawer (ahhhh) to assemble this salad.

1 cucumber, diced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Half a can of chickpeas (15.5 oz), rinsed and drained
4 oz feta cheese, cubed
10 Kalamata olives, halved
1/8 cup finely chopped parsley
Juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
6 teaspoons olive oil

Combine diced cucumber, cherry tomato halves, chickpeas, feta, olives and parsley in a medium bowl. Mix lemon juice and sherry vinegar in small bowl and whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper and adjust seasoning by adding more vinegar if desired. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Some diced radish would be a great addition to this salad as well.

Serves 2 as a small main, or 4 as a side. Or, 1 particularly greedy mommy for both lunch and dinner (which is what happened in my house).

Mom rating: five stars – couldn’t eat it fast enough.
Kid rating: unknown. Mom scarfed it down before anyone got any! Vinegar in dressing might have been a little much for daughter 1, but daughter 2 would have eaten tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas quite happily.