OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Quinoa, beans, avocado combine for hearty salad

Quinoa With Beans, Avocado and Orange (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This grain salad is one of the best things I've eaten this year (and there's been a lot of competition for that title so far. Those carrot soups I wrote about last week were impressively delicious).

The salad (or grain bowl, if you're not a salad eater) can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. I think it strikes the perfect compromise for those days when you're craving hearty and filling, but bright tasting and refreshing. Basically, when you want the freshness of a salad, but one that will fill you up and keep you that way.

This recipe has everything you want in a salad or grain bowl: quinoa and beans (protein and fiber), corn (sweetness) and oranges (sweet acidity), celery (bitter crunch), red onion (sweet/hot crunch), avocado (creamy deliciousness) tied together with a sweet-tart and smoky dressing.

The recipe won't win any beauty contests, but it tastes so good you won't care. To give it a little more visual appeal, instead of mixing everything together as directed, compose it in layers with the grain on the bottom, layering the remaining ingredients or piling them in clusters and then drizzling with the dressing.

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Quinoa With Beans, Avocado and Orange

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
  • Salt
  • ½ cup corn kernels (thawed if using frozen, drained if using canned)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can beans such as black, pinto or kidney (drained)
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • ¼ cup sliced celery, plus some of the leaves
  • 1½ avocados, peeled, pitted and diced, divided use
  • 2 oranges, peeled and separated into segments (membrane removed if desired)
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus more juice
  • Honey, to taste
  • Smoky hot sauce (I used chipotle Cholula), to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground chile, plus more to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine the rinsed quinoa, 2 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender and all of the water has been absorbed. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the corn, beans, onion, celery, two thirds of the avocado and the orange segments and gently toss to mix. Stir in the cooked quinoa.

For the dressing:

In blender or food processor, combine the avocado half, orange juice, lime zest and juice, about 1 teaspoon honey, 2 teaspoons hot sauce, ¼ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon chile and a pinch or two of salt. Blend until smooth. Taste and add more honey, hot sauce, cumin, chile or salt as needed. If mixture tastes a little flat, add more lime juice.

Drizzle dressing over and toss gently to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 4 servings.