Johansson. O'Hara. Fever. This is way better than those Scarlets.
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
Note: Umeboshi (plum) vinegar can be found at Whole Foods and Asian markets.
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
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.