People are often a bit skeptical of quinoa and I understand why: anyone who has eaten leaden, tasteless 1970s-era vegetarian food has probably had a scarring experience with it. Even Thrifty Gal, who enjoys her veggie grub, looked at me sideways when I suggested cooking it for her. But here’s the thing – quinoa is easy to make, its nutty flavour is a great base for a spring meal, and it is unbelievably good for you. Check this out: this ancient Andean foodstuff is full of essential amino acids, it can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer, and it can even reduce the frequency of migraines. As a sufferer of quite unpleasant headaches, this last point had me planning a quinoa-centric diet, but even if you want to emphasise flavour rather than health, quinoa is one of the tastiest of the so-called ancient grains. It’s actually not a grain at all but technically a grass, which is why I always cook it during Passover, but it functions like a grain in cooking. I think the trick is to combine it with lots of vegetables so that it provides a nutty counterpoint rather than a protein-heavy mouthful. This dish came from my obsession with those superfood salads you can buy in Chopped and other salad places. I absolutely love all of those supposedly super-good-for-you ingredients of beets, dark greens and seeds and as it turns out they mesh splendidly with quinoa.

I put some halloumi in this version, but you could easily make the dish vegan by skipping the cheese, as it’s not at all crucial. I’ve also kept the spicing fairly simple here, because I love the honey garlic pepper dressing below so much, but I’ve had success adding harissa paste to the quinoa cooking water, and you could also add cumin and coriander seeds to the frying stage if you wanted a Middle Eastern vibe.

Quinoa with beets, greens and halloumi

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup bulghur wheat (you could do all quinoa, too, I just came across a pack of the two mixed and thought it looked good)
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp linseeds
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 2 large beets
  • 1 pack halloumi
  • a large handful of fava beans / broad beans
  • a small bunch of watercress
  • a small bunch of arugula / rocket
  • vegetable stock (optional)

dressing ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsps honey
  • juice of a lemon or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • some olive oil

The dressing is based on one by Michele Anna Jordan – her daughter used to be my roommate and introduced several of my friends to this simple and addictive honey garlic pepper dressing. Nigh on twenty years later, my recent host in Brooklyn, L, was telling me how she still makes this dressing for salads all the damn time. It works splendidly with quinoa too…

Start by roasting the beets, wrapped in tin foil, in a medium heat oven for about an hour. Once you’ve got those going, toast the seeds till aromatic and turning golden.

Now cook the quinoa and bulghur: heat a little olive oil in a heavy pot and, when it’s hot, add the grain mix. Sauté for a minute, stirring till coated with oil and starting to toast. Add 1 and 3/4 cups of water or vegetable stock and the sumac, stir, then cover and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, or till the water is all absorbed. Once it’s done, it can sit quite happily with a lid on till everything else is ready.

While the quinoa is cooking, boil a pot of water and cook the fava beans for 5 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. (Some people eat them unpeeled but I like them a whole lot better peeled.)

Slice the halloumi into bite size chunks and fry them in a dry non-stick pan till golden brown on both sides. Make the salad dressing by first warming the honey. (This is easily done in a microwave but since I don’t have one of those, I tend to put it in a little bowl and hold it over whatever is currently simmering. It’s kinda low-tech but it works!) Chop and crush the garlic with salt till it’s a paste. Mix garlic, honey, and lemon juice with an extremely generous amount of fresh black pepper, then whisk in olive oil to taste. You want a decent amount of oil, at least 1/4 cup.

To finish the dish, peel and slice the beets, mix all the vegetables, cheese, and seeds into the quinoa, and toss with the dressing.

Serves 4.