Quinoa Taco Salad

Quinoa is a popular way to get protein and fiber without including meat.

That’s what makes a quinoa taco salad a great idea, as it pairs beautifully with some of the common ingredients and flavors that make Mexican food so popular. One of the best things about a taco salad is that it’s easy to customize it with whatever vegetables, herbs and cheeses you’d like to get in the meal. As long as the flavors work harmoniously, literally anything goes.

Why Does Quinoa Fit Well With Mexican Cuisine?

Contrary to popular belief, Mexicans actually don’t eat a lot of meat. Beef, for example, is not commonly eaten in Mexico, and when it is eaten, it’s usually not ground and it’s not topped with cheese in a taco.

Quinoa might not be native to Mexico, but the climate where it grows best isn’t far off from the Mexican topography. Quinoa thrives in high-elevation countries with warm weather, namely Peru and Bolivia. While Mexico City will never be confused with La Paz, the Bolivian capital and the world’s most elevated capital city, Mexico City’s elevation of 7,382 feet is significant, and the areas around it are ideal for growing quinoa.

Why wasn’t quinoa grown in Mexico? In a word: the Spanish. When they invaded the New World, the Spanish conquistadors forbade quinoa and amaranth (another superfood that Mexican farmers have recently rediscovered) because they viewed it as unfit for their consumption. Instead, Mexican farmers were forced to grow wheat, in accordance with Spanish religious customs.

What Flavors Work With Quinoa?

Being native to the Americas, quinoa pairs very well with many of the flavors that exist in Mexican cuisine. One example is quinoa and black beans, known as frijoles negros in Mexico. ALong with corn, all three plants are grown either in or near Mexico, making them easy to obtain and a natural pairing.

Beyond that, quinoa is a fluffy, nutty grain that has a taste similar to rice, another common crop in Mexican cooking. As such, the best way to treat quinoa is to add the kind of flavors that you might add to a rice dish. If you’d add tomatoes, chiles, cheese or seasonings to your rice, feel free to add it to quinoa.

How Is Quinoa Prepared?

When working with quinoa, the most important thing to remember is to always rinse it well. If you’re working with boxed quinoa, it’s likely been pre-rinsed, but when working with fresh quinoa, you need to rinse off the natural coating, called saponins, before you start cooking.

This is done for two reasons. First, rinsing your quinoa makes it easier to open up, creating a more finished grain. Second, saponins taste like soap. In fact, saponins get their name from a plant that was first used to make soap. As nutritious as quinoa is, almost nobody enjoys the taste of soap. Rinsing your quinoa removes the saponins, leaving a delicious grain.

How Do I Make a Quinoa Taco Salad?

Simple: make a taco salad with the same ingredients you regularly eat, with quinoa used instead of meat. If you like avocado and mushrooms on your taco salad, feel free to add them. If you want lettuce, black olives and black beans, they’re fair game. Quinoa makes it easy to go vegetarian, vegan or just gluten-free with your dinner.

The only thing you really need to remember is to cook your quinoa until it’s got the perfect texture for your tastes. Be sure to season it with the spices you want and you’ll have an easy taco salad!

Taco salad was made to be customized, and quinoa is a great way to really change up this dish and make it a nutrition powerhouse. When quinoa is cooked well, you won’t even miss the meat in your dish!

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