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!

The Mighty Rice Bowl: Brown Rice with Oven-Roasted Vegetables

It’s back to school week in New Jersey and time seems to be at a premium. Backpacks to be packed, teachers to meet, and, thankfully, end-of-summer play dates squeezed between it all to take our minds off the colder seasons ahead (not that we’re complaining…I love autumn in the Northeast!).

This week’s CSA pick-up got squeezed in around all of that. Daughter 1 and daughter 2 followed me around the farm this week for pick-your-own cherry tomatoes (Sun Golds, red, and grape varieties), okra, peppers, herbs and flowers. We also came home with onions, squash, scallions, lettuce, beets…made me almost want to find an actual cornucopia and fill it. Almost. But, pulling in the garage at 6:00 PM without a dinner plan could have spelled disaster. I was thinking on my feet by that time and, wanting to avoid a total evening meltdown, turned to the ever-popular but sometimes forgotten rice bowl.

Pick-your-own at Cherry Grove Organic Farm. Does that include clover?

Pick-your-own at Cherry Grove Organic Farm. Does that include clover?

Looking back, the day daughter 1 actually agreed to eat rice was a turning point in our dinner preparations. I should be able to remember exactly when that was but it was probably the frustration of serving chicken nuggets and tater tots one too many times combined with far too many “please just try it” moments that has somehow blotted that memory from my mind (kind of like childbirth, I suppose…which, though more painful, certainly ended sooner).

We now have no fewer than five varieties of rice in the pantry and our Zojirushi rice cooker spends more time on the counter than on the shelf. (Don’t have one? Go splurge for one right now and thank me later!)

For our rice bowl dinner we choose short grain brown rice, ready in under an hour (just enough time to get the kids in and out of the bath — I was multitasking here and made good use of the “down time” while things cooked). And with all those super fresh veggies our plan came together pretty quickly.

This is a great meal to have in the repertoire because you can tailor it to suit any given food whim or craving. At its most simple, it’s just a bowl of rice topped with, well, stuff. Our stuff this week was roasted veggies — and I had a portion that was completely vegetarian. You could just as easily cut up some cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes and have a kind of hot/cold salad combo. Or, stir fry broccoli, carrots, ginger and scallions and top with a fried egg. Add meat. Or don’t. The rice is just a blank canvas — add whatever you like!

Roasted eggplant, peppers, carrots and onions atop a bed of brown rice

Roasted eggplant, peppers, carrots and onions atop a bed of brown rice

Here’s what went into ours:

The Mighty Rice Bowl: Short Grain Brown Rice with Oven-Roasted Vegetables

2 cups short grain brown rice
2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch sections
1  red bell pepper, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 onion, sliced top-to-bottom into 1/2 inch strips (not rounds)
1 large handful — about a cup — of cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Several grinds pepper
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon basil chiffonade
A drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for serving
Protein of choice…I used 2 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled, but you could also top with several ounces of poached and seared shrimp, or several links of Italian sausage, cooked and cut into rings (or some combination of any of those ingredients)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook the rice according to directions and, when finished, keep warm.

While the rice cooks combine all the cut vegetables in a large bowl and stir in the olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, coating the veggies well. Spread the veggies into one layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the carrots, eggplant and tomatoes have softened and the peppers and onions have just barely started to brown. Don’t let the veggies burn though — you might have to keep your eyes on them during the last 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Reduce oven to 350 degrees and roast for another 30 minutes until quite tender. You may want to stir the veggies slightly during this time to redistribute on the baking sheet and to make sure they cook evenly without scorching.

To serve, put approximately 1 cup of cooked rice into each serving bowl and top with equal amounts of the veggies. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Top with some basil and a small amount of crumbled feta or whatever protein you choose to use (or not…the veggies are quite good on their own).

Serves: 4

Parent rating: five stars. I went for the all-vegitarian version with a little feta. The basil was the unsung hero of this dish, added at the end for a light, fresh note. Delicious, reasonably fast, and if you double the quantity it makes a great day 2 lunch. Also packs quite easily, so I sent daughter 2 to school with leftovers (she requested it, over a turkey and cheese sandwich offered as an option!).
Kid rating: four-and-a-half stars. I cheated a little bit and didn’t serve any eggplant or basil in their portions, which neither of them particularly like. I loaded up on the carrots for them though, and also put a couple of shrimp on top. Also, daughter 1 didn’t get any balsamic. I think that really talks to the versatility of this dish…add what you want, omit what you don’t like. It’s all good. Very, very good.