Friday, June 10, 2011

M Café’s Scarlet Quinoa Salad

Johansson. O'Hara. Fever. This is way better than those Scarlets.
My scarlet quinoa may not be a blonde bombshell, a fictional southern belle or a hideous disease, but who needs those Hollywood types or a temperature when you could have this scarlet starlet? Thanks to beets, quinoa is transformed into one gorgeous grain that's ready for her close-up.

M Café is a macrobiotic spot in LA that used to be near my office, so I had a chance to eat this salad on more than a few occasions. Eyeing me from inside the deli case with her exotic color, she wooed my peepers and then my palate. Her intensely unique flavor was hard for me to figure out. I’d have scary, Sybil-like conversations in my head about the ingredients. "I taste dill and a touch of lemon," I'd say, rather civilized. "It's an umami flavor," I'd bark back, all Sybilized. Ashamed that my uberachieving Extra Sensory Palate couldn't solve the mystery, I knew I’d have to seek professional help. Where was Dr. Sigmund Food when I needed him? Then one day the recipe appeared in the LA Times food section, and the sneaky culprits were revealed. The umami flavor was from umeboshi plum vinegar and pickle juice. Repeat: plum vinegar and pickle juice! I'm pretty sure even America's Test Kitchen couldn't have solved that.

One thing all of me agreed on was how refreshing this scarlet quinoa salad is. Beets, cucumber, dill and lemon make her a natural for the limelight. Give her a starring role in your next brunch, and frankly my dear, she'll be gone with the wind.

M Café’s Scarlet Quinoa Salad Recipe (adapted from LA Times)

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling time for the quinoa

Servings: 6

Note: Umeboshi (plum) vinegar can be found at Whole Foods and Asian markets.

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

2 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons dill pickle juice

1 tablespoon best-quality olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, pickle juice and olive oil. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Scarlet quinoa and salad assembly

1 cup quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced red beets

2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup diced Japanese or Persian cucumber

2 teaspoons chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped dill

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

Salt (optional)

1. Wash the quinoa under cold running water in a fine strainer. Drain well.

2. In a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the beets, vegetable broth or water, olive oil and lemon juice. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the quinoa, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, about 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat and drain any remaining liquid.

3. Fluff the quinoa with a fork, let cool slightly and refrigerate the grains, uncovered, until completely cool.

4. Fluff the cooled grains and place them in a large bowl. Gently stir in the cucumber, chives, dill and lemon zest. Stir in half of the dressing, then taste the salad and add additional dressing or salt as desired.

Each serving: 146 calories; 4 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 220 mg. sodium.

Notes: My photos show two different batches. The darker color in the top two photos, which looks more like M Café's, is made with fresh beets I steamed first and vegetable broth for the quinoa. The lighter one is with pre-cooked vacuum-packed baby beets from Trader Joe's and water (I used the whole 8 oz. package). The Times' recipe doesn't specify whether to cook the beets first, but mine were precooked in both instances. Fresh and packaged work equally well. I prefer using water, as the broth made it extremely rich. Chives are optional (I didn't have any). I used all the dressing and no salt.

Related Links:

Starving Artist Series: Beet Hummus

Orange-Infused Beets with Walnuts

My Therapy Session with Dr. Sigmund Food (#1: The Salad Bar)


  1. Plum vinegar - thanks for turning me on to it. Can't wait to try this salad.

  2. Nice combination, and such a beautiful color! Umeboshi vinegar is one of my favorite secret weapons in the kitchen, especially when I don't have any lemons around. Good stuff.

  3. this looks great. My sister was steaming her beetroot above her quinoa and realised that it turned it purple without even wanting it too! i love the colour so much!

  4. Andrea and Nancy: thanks! The plum vinegar is like nothing I've ever tasted, and it's perfect in this recipe.

    Thrifty: Thanks for visiting!

  5. Hi Adair! I found your site through Nancy's wonderful Smart Palate while seeking a quinoa recipe--your Miz Scarlet is gorgeous. I've never used plum vinegar, and clearly I need to have this "secret weapon" in my pantry. Thanks!

  6. Hi Nancy. Thanks for visiting!

  7. I have never heard of, let alone tasted umeboshi plum vinegar, but it sounds intriguing! Several of the ingredients in this salad are on my husbands CANNOT HAVE IT list (he is allergic to a ton of stuff), but I like every single one of them (besides the umeboshi, of course, which is an enigma:)
    Quinoa is so versatile and eating it colored purple can only make me happier:)
    Do I have to say every time I comment how entertaining your blog is? Yes, I do:)

  8. Hi Adair!!

    I love it - ESP - that is too funny (as are all your posts!!) This salad sounds wonderful and you are right - I don't think America's Test Kitchen could have solved the secret ingredient either.
    This sounds like a salad I would love and a great excuse to buy some of the vinegar.. after all, one can never have too many kinds of vinegar, right?

  9. Great intro! Looks as yummy as a dessert! Very interesting ingredients. I'm always intimidated by beets...but I might go for this!

  10. I have one foolproof quinoa recipe that I have been making almost weekly for over a year, and quite frankly she needs a dye job. Summer is here so why not go red? I have beets already in my pantry, but I've never tried plum vinegar, so a field trip will be in order, but I'm going to give this recipe a try, and soon! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Anna: You're very welcome. Thanks for visiting.

  12. um you just managed to combine my 2 favorite things! Quinoa and Beets! I cant wait to do this