I know it’s still February, but I think a spring bug bit me. The new strawberries, asparagus, sugar snap peas and artichokes were calling my name last weekend at the farmer’s market and I felt myself thinking ahead to the next season. Just noticing that the sun is setting later and later is making me giddy. Yesterday I was working at home and felt inspired to make one of my favorite quinoa dishes with baby spinach, fresh dill and mint. It was like a bowl of fresh air.
This salad is based on the ingredients in spanakopita, the very rich and tasty Greek pie made from layers of phyllo dough (and butter), stuffed with cheese, spinach and herbs. My friend John gave me his mother, Libby’s heavenly recipe for spanakopita which I have been making for at least 10 years now, but not quite as often as I used to since loads of dairy, processed wheat and fat aren’t friendly to a certain someone. So these days spanakopita makes an appearance only once a year at our Yom Kippur break-the-fast dinner. Don’t feel sorry for me too fast.
Since I still crave those flavors, I came up with a lighter and fresher way to enjoy them. Hence this salad was born. Would you think I was lying if I told you I like this quinoa just as much, maybe more than spanakopita? Of course, I acknowledge this is still a salad and not a flaky, buttery hot mess of three kinds of cheese bound by chopped spinach. But I do like this quinoa better!! I like that it’s fresh, zingy and makes me feel energized instead of weighed down. Quinoa has that effect on me. It’s gluten-free and full of high quality protein, fiber and healthful minerals. For something so nutritious, it is also bouncy and light. Plus I can prepare this salad in a faction of the time it takes me to butter 20 sheets of phyllo dough.
My girls came home from school yesterday and polished off what was left in the serving bowl. I was hoping to ask Mr. Picky to try one bite. In the past, he has only been willing to eat the spinach leaves after he wiped them clean with his napkin. But lately I’ve noticed he has been a little more tolerant of quinoa, not minding if a spoonful or two gets mixed in with some kale salad or sugar snap peas. This is part of the slow and steady process to which I have committed.
For those of you with actual dietary restrictions or aversions, this is an incredibly flexible recipe. Vegans and dairy-free people can omit the feta and add some kalamata olives for a salty bite. I know there are mint-haters out there (really? very hard to believe!), so feel free to leave that out, especially since Libby’s recipe calls for only dill. And for those of you who would rather not use pine nuts, I have also used sliced almonds or roasted pistachios before with success. I love quinoa with a little crunch. This salad is the perfect lunch or light dinner on its own, but I have also served this with dozens of different sides including roasted carrots and beets, grilled zucchini, sauteed green beans with shallots or minted snap peas. Can you say “Spring It On?!”
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa, RINSED (see Step 1)
- Sea salt
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced or 1 garlic clove, minced
- 6 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (3 ounces)
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint (optional)
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces feta, preferably made from goat or sheep’s milk
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Rinse quinoa in a bowl with water or place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Drain and transfer to a medium saucepan with a pinch of sea salt and 1 ¾ cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let sit, covered for 10 minutes. Quinoa can remain in the pot until ready to combine with other salad ingredients or transfer to a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Allow quinoa to cool slightly.
- To the quinoa add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. * Or you can place the spinach on a serving platter and toss with 1 Tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil. Combine quinoa with remaining ingredients and mound on top of the spinach leaves. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Made this salad tonight and it was a huge hit. Added chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes… didn’t use pine nuts or mint. Family loved it! Next time I will add kalamata olives :).
Wonderful! Love your adaptations, Lisa. Thank you for giving this recipe a try.
How awesome! Thanks, Llnanne 🙂
I made this last night and thankfully, I made a double batch. My husband exclaimed several times how good it was.Did not have the pine nuts and it was still amazing
You’ll be making it on the regular now!! So nutritious and good for you!
This salad is so delicious!!! I’m going to make it for a few friends this weekend.
Is there any substitute for quinoa? I’m not a huge fan of the ancient grain.
You could do a large spinach salad and no quinoa or you can try couscous or millet as a grain substitute.
I made this for dinner tonight and it was a winner. I also made roast shrimp but those didn’t turn out as well – I think I need your advice on what kind of shrimp to buy? I bought frozen at Whole Foods.
Glad the salad worked out at least! I buy wild large shrimp at Whole Foods and it is frozen/defrosted. As long as it is defrosted, it should roast nicely. Was it really wet? Pat it dry next time. Or tell me what wasn’t good about it and perhaps I can make some suggestions.
Hi Pamela! How would you feel about substituting spinach for kale here? I have a couple bunches I need to use.
Hi Kelly! You know I love kale, but spinach is more neutral and much softer. I haven’t paired kale with dill and mint, so not sure about that combo. If you decide to use the kale, cut it really thin and massage the lemon juice, oil and salt into the slivered leaves before adding to the quinoa so that you soften the kale a bit. Check out my raw kale salad post to see what I’m talking about. Or go make some kale chips!
Funny you mention kale chips. I was probably burning them as you were typing! Luckily, I had enough to make your kale salad and lemon/cumin quinoa. I make them together often and love the combo. Thanks, as always!
Oh dear. Hate when I burn the kale chips! At least you can always rely on the salad 🙂
I just finished making/eating this and me an my 11 year old daughter LOVED it!!!! I left out the dill (forgot actually) and I didn’t miss it at all. My daughter was literally scooping the rest of it out of her bowl and then I told her there was still more in the kitchen! Terrific recipe. It was easy and sooooo yummy. I will make this again and again.
Well if that isn’t the greatest thing I’ve read all day. How awesome! Thanks, Lee Ann!
i want to make a batch of this tonight but my husband is not a huge fan of dill. would the flavor be lost if i omit it from the recipe?
My husband is not a huge fan of dill either, but he doesn’t seem to mind it in both spanakopita and this recipe. Maybe put in half the amount? I’m sure if you left it out the dish would still taste great, but it won’t be the same.
I made this last week and couldn’t wait to make it again! Taking it to work today for lunch and leaving some home for the hubby to enjoy. Thanks for creating such a beautiful blog.
My pleasure, Diana! It makes me happy that you’re enjoying the recipes :).
I made the recipe again and it is just fabulous! The recipe yields enough to have two or three lunches for the week. That is of course until you find out that your salad was confiscated and brought to the beach and devoured while you were at work! Looks like I’ll need to make a new batch 🙂
This is a good thing! Thanks, Diana~
This is delicious! Fresh, simple and easy! This is a staple in our house, I’m making it again tonight!
Thanks for letting me know, Lauren! Enjoy~
This is amazing, thank you 🙂
You are very welcome! 🙂
OMG!!! I made this tonight! Fantastic! I substituted chopped walnuts. Peter tried it, but he’s my MR. PICKY!!
Glad you enjoyed it!
I made this tonight and it was delicious. I even screwed up and used half millet and half quinoa — it still turned out great.
Doesn’t sound like a screw up to me! Love millet!
I’m hosting a birthday luncheon for my mom in May, about 30 people. This should make a great side starch dish; do you think?
Most definitely! This is also an easy recipe to double or triple. It will be fabulous~