Battle Cinnamon: Quinoa Chickpea Salad

This month I scored a coveted invitation to a Chicago Iron Chef group that my friends Emily and Heather are a part of (check out the full battle rundown here). I was excited for this competitive foodie potluck – our own little Olympic celebration. The secret ingredient was revealed as cinnamon 2 days prior to the event, and my mind predictably scattered in a hundred directions. I didn’t want to make something obvious – I wanted to score high on those coveted creativity points. I wanted to avoid sweets, as I feared that the table would be trending sweet already. Instinctively, I knew that my final dish would have chickpeas.

Two days later and the morning of the competition, chickpeas were still all that I had in mind. Should I make a tagine? A Moroccan veggie stew? A salad? Roasted chickpeas with cinnamon and cardamom? Eventually my hands started working and my mind quieted as I cooked by taste and feel. I dragged out the mortar and pestle and started grinding spices. Preheated the oven to make some caramelized onions. I roasted some carrots and peppers in the spice mixture I came up with. Then – rice or quinoa? I settled on quinoa, using both white and red quinoa for a prettier presentation (creativity points, people!). I whipped up a simple vinaigrette and took a heavy hand with the spicing, dumping in the fresh ground spices, jazzing it up with a little cayenne. Now I knew I was onto something.

After all the ingredients were assembled, the many dishes done and the salad tossed, I knew I had a dish worthy of my debut in this new food circle. The finished dish was unlike any quinoa salad I’ve made previously, and yes – the presence of cinnamon was there without falling into the territory of being sweet. The cumin and brown mustard seeds in the dressing brought the dish back down to earth resulting in a warming, filling salad. I walked confidently to the train to carry my goodies downtown to Emily’s apartment to meet new friends, talk food, Olympics and EAT.

When all the scores were tallied, my dish came in 4th of 12 dishes – a very respectable entry for this Iron Chef newbie. And maybe some of you will enjoy what I created for this special event.

What’s your favorite way to make a splash with cinnamon? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

1 cup white quinoa
1 cup red quinoa
1 onion, sliced very thin
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ wide coins
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
3 cups cooked chick peas
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
kosher salt
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

2 T brown mustard seeds
1 T whole cumin seeds
1.5 T cinnamon
1/3 cup lemon juice (I used meyer lemons, since they are in season)
2 T dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
2/3 cup grapeseed oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Combine the mustard seeds, cumin and salt in a mortar and pestle and bash the spices around until you have a rough grind. Set aside.
  3. Cook the quinoa with 1tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp kosher salt according to your package directions (or in the rice cooker as I do). When the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and scoop into a really large mixing bowl.
  4. While the quinoa cooks, roast the veggies. Peel the carrots and slice into coins about 1/4″ wide. Chop the bell pepper and poblano into bite size pieces. Toss the carrots and peppers in a bowl, and add 1tsp of the spice mixture, a pinch or two of kosher salt, and 1tsp olive oil. Stir to coat. Spray a sheet pan with olive oil, and pour the veggies onto the sheet, spreading them out in one layer. Slice the onion in half, then slice into very thin slices – I used a mandoline with the thin-slicing blade here. Spray a second sheet pan with olive oil and spread the onions onto it in one layer – sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Place both sheet pans of veggies in the oven (one on high-middle shelf, one on bottom shelf) and roast for 15 minutes, then stir. Roast for another 10 minutes, then remove from the peppers and carrots from oven and scoop the roasted veggies into the mixing bowl on top of the quinoa – let them hang out on top for a few minutes to cool off, so the carrots don’t go completely soggy on you. The onions will need another 15-20 minutes – you want them to caramelize and get a bit crispy. When they’re starting to crisp, remove them from the oven, and add to the veggies and quinoa.
  5. Make the dressing: Combine 1/3 cup lemon juice 2/3 cup grapeseed oil, 2 T dijon mustard, the remaining spice mixture and cayenne in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add salt to taste – the dressing should be pretty highly seasoned, as it will be the main flavoring for all that fluffy quinoa.
  6. Add the cooked, drained chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and minced parsley to the mixing bowl with the quinoa and veggies. Gently stir to combine everything. Pour most of the vinaigrette over the salad, reserving 1/4 cup. Stir to coat everything in the dressing. Taste, and adjust seasoning and adjust with a squirt more lemon juice a dash more cayenne or salt if needed. You can store in the fridge until ready to serve, then toss the salad with the reserved dressing. Salad tastes best at room temperature.

357 cal per 1.5 cups, 160 cal from fat, 18.9g fat, 350mg sodium, 180mg potassium, 41g carb, 10g fiber, 9.6g protein

17 thoughts on “Battle Cinnamon: Quinoa Chickpea Salad

  1. Looks delicious! What a creative way to use cinnamon. I love it with lamb and a friend of mine uses it as his secret ingredient in his home-made pasta sauce. Looking forward to trying it with the mustard seeds. Always such a pleasure reading your blog, Jenn.

  2. I followed this recipe from Kevin’s site.
    And very happy I have.
    I will have to look for red quinoa. I am guessing that maybe Whole Foods carries it??
    At any rate, I look forward to trying this salad.

    • Thanks for visiting, Celeste! Alter Eco packages red quinoa, which you can buy online or at some Whole Foods. But recently I’ve also been able to buy it in the bulk bins as well (and for $1 cheaper per pound). But you can definitely make it with all white quinoa – they taste the same, I just like the look of the two mixed together.

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