Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cooking with Carlos: Easy Quinoa Black Bean Salad (quinoa guilt optional)

It’s one of those funny/not funny situations in our household that we feel guilty about something on practically a daily basis. Mostly we feel guilty every time we leave the house. Why? Because our dogs are powerful actors and they know how to pour it on.  Ruby gives us the “side eye” and positions herself in front of the door to the garage, Gandalf style: “You…shall…not…pass!” 

Ruby is the boss of everything in our house.  Really.  It’s a huge responsibility to look after three other Cavaliers and two humans, let alone to be on guard for any creature or vehicle passing by outside. She’s also very capable when it comes to grading Shakespeare essays, as you can see. So, we feel guilty when she puts on her pitiful face at the door   but we quietly pick up our keys, tuck our invisible tails, and go out anyway.   

Our dogs are also very particular when anyone enters the premises.  If you’ve been to our house in the past five years, you’ve experienced the deafening chorus of barking that is the standard welcoming/farewell protocol.  Once guests or piano students are inside and settled, the dogs quietly go about their business, i.e., sleeping.

One of Michel’s former violin students who now lives/works out of state comes to visit a few times a year and food is always an integral part of the fun. These visits are totally sanctioned by our dogs, even though Carlos is a cat person. Of course, there are lively conversations about violins and bows, violinists and conductors—good and bad, catching up on “whatever happened to…” various people, and the plight of orchestras and professional musicians in the U.S. and elsewhere. During his most recent visit, Carlos and his wife, Sakira, patiently tried to help us figure out how to watch YouTube videos on the new Smart TV in Michel’s library.  We are still honing our remote control navigation skills. So far the TV remains smarter than we are.

Part of the enjoyment when Carlos visits is planning and preparing a meal.  Michel and Carlos work together chopping and prepping (and Michel usually tells Carlos to chop things “smaller!”), talking about the ingredients going into whatever dish they are making, watching more YouTube violinist videos while things are cooking.  The dish they made most recently requires minimal cooking: Black Bean Quinoa Salad.  It’s a protein-packed combo that’s substantive enough for dinner.  If you have leftover cooked quinoa in your refrigerator (which we almost always do), then this becomes a no-cook recipe.  

Here’s the part about Quinoa Guilt.

Quinoa has become a staple in our house and its vast popularity has caused big changes for the Andean people who grow and harvest the grain.  Some people claim that the native growers are suffering because of the rampant first-world consumption of their crops.  

Here’s a snippet from a BBC post about the ethics of quinoa consumption: 
Quinoa has generated much debate in recent years. Since experiencing a rapid increase in demand, the domestic cost of production has also risen sharply, with the local Andean population unable to afford it and imported junk food being more budget-friendly. Land that once grew a multitude of diverse crops are now dedicated quinoa fields. Our well intentioned health goals may unwittingly be driving unfavorable conditions for local growers.” Read more here if you're interested: 

On the other side, there are those who claim that the quinoa boom is helping the farmers whose income has seen a dramatic increase.  Here’s more about that from NPR:

In addition to the health benefits of meatless living, many of us are eating quinoa and other vegetarian proteins to avoid feeling guilty about the environmental and moral consequences of meat consumption.  Now we have to worry about the Andean farmers, too?  I guess so.  It’s clear that quinoa has become a new “it” food when Budweiser builds an NFL television commercial around it. 

Here’s Michel's recipe for the Black Bean Quinoa Salad.  It’s a wonderful minimal-cooking option for a summer evening.  Hope you enjoy it, guilt-free. 

To make the salad you will need:

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 cup quinoa, cooked

2 cups fresh corn
2 avocados, peeled and cut into lengthwise segments
2 tomatoes cut into bite-sized cubes
½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup baby arugula
 A “handful” of cilantro, finely chopped

You can add a handful of asparagus, broccoli, or whatever vegetables you like (or find languishing in your refrigerator).

To make the dressing you will need:

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 thin slices fresh ginger, finely chopped
Juice of one lime
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar

Mix salad ingredients and drizzle with dressing.  EAT.  
Nice with a side of blue corn tortilla chips.