Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers

Quinoa with AsparagusWhen I grew up, nutrition was always as important to my mother as deliciousness. This is how my grandmother raised her and it’s the way I am raising my own kids.

Quinoa, an ancient grain native to Peru, is one of the most nutritious foods – there is a reason why it’s a staple in any health food store. We actually started having quinoa very young – when my siblings and I were babies, my mom used to give us quinoa water (the water used when boiling quinoa) mixed with powdered milk. Babies in my family always had a beautiful glow and I don’t think that’s a coincidence – quinoa is high in protein, fiber and many important minerals. Now my own kids are growing up eating quinoa just like I did.

Here is a recipe that is always a hit with my clients when they ask me to provide them with healthy but delicious meals. It’s a versatile dish that can incorporate any seasonal vegetables – in the spring I love it with asparagus. Enjoy!

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers in Lime Cumin Vinaigrette

Serves 4

2 cups quinoa
1/3 cup canola oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp annatto powder (available online)
½ tsp aji mirasol paste (found at Latin American markets or online)
4 cups hot water
salt and pepper to taste
½  cup green asparagus, cooked and cut into ½” pieces
½  cup roasted peppers, diced
½ cup sundried tomatoes, julienned
1/3 cup lime juice
½ tsp yellow mustard
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped cilantro

Rinse the quinoa under cold water in a fine meshed strainer to remove any dirt or impurities. In a medium-sized pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent, then add crushed garlic and annatto powder. Stir then add aji mirasol and cook for 1 minute. Add the quinoa and hot water, mix all the ingredients together well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, leave uncovered and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa looks fluffy. Place the quinoa in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and separate it by running a fork through it. Once the quinoa cools down, add asparagus, peppers and sundried tomatoes.

In a separate bowl, combine lime juice, mustard, cumin seeds and olive oil and mix well. Pour the mixture over the quinoa and add chopped cilantro. Adjust seasoning if necessary and enjoy!

Cooking Tip: Always season quinoa after it is cooked because adding salt from the beginning will prevent it from cooking and becoming fluffy.


QuinoaQuinoa is an ancient grain native to Peru, also called “the Gold of the Incas.” It is high in protein, including all nine essential amino acids, and is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus. It is also high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest, so it is a great choice for vegetarians, vegans and anyone gluten-sensitive. After it is cooked, quinoa has a fluffy texture and a mild, almost nutty flavor. Recently some new types of quinoa have appeared in the U.S., including red and black quinoa. The grain is increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, as well as at any health food store or Whole Foods Market.

Peruvian Cuisine section

For newcomers to this site, a good place to get an overview of Peru’s diverse cuisine is my Peruvian Cuisine section. Here you can read about the country’s regions, ingredients and traditions.

In Season: Chirimoya

One of my favorite fruits is chirimoya (also known as cherimoya), a mid-winter fruit with a season ending in late May. This fruit is native to the highlands of the Peruvian Andes and increasingly available here. When ripe, it has a soft green skin and a white silky flesh with large black seeds with a flavor some say is a combination of mango, banana and pineapple. For me, it tastes better than that! Try it in smoothies, as a mousse, or just eat it alone.

You can find organic chirimoyas from California at Calimoya.com.

Les Marmitons

Les Marmitons is a gastronomic and social club of gentlemen who share a common interest in fine food, wine and the culinary arts, with the first North American Chapter established in Montreal, Canada in 1977. The New Jersey chapter is the oldest in the US and meets monthly, with members preparing and enjoying a gourmet dinner using a menu and recipes provided by a guest chef.

I was invited to join Les Marmitons for an event recently and was excited to introduce them the cuisine of Peru. I gave them the menu and recipes in advance, which they would then cook themselves during the evening under my guidance. 14 Les Marmitons members attended, dividing into groups to cook and plate each course. I was there to talk about Peruvian cuisine, supervise and help them with anything they might need, adding final touches and seasoning the Peruvian way

I designed a 4-course menu of classic Peruvian dishes for this dinner and, naturally, we had to start off Peru’s national drink as an aperitif, the Pisco Sour, made with pisco, a grape brandy. The chefs divided into four groups and one group was in charge of the Pisco Sour and the appetizer, Tilapia Ceviche. Ceviche entails several steps – cooking the sweet potatoes and corn for the garnish, juicing the limes, and cutting the fish and the onions – but they were up to the task and finished in plenty of time for dinner. The second group was in charge of the Amuse Bouche, Choritos a la Chalaca, steamed mussels topped with tomato, onions, cilantro and corn salsa marinated in lime juice. Then came the entrée, Aji de Gallina con Camarones, the Peruvian version of chicken fricassee but with a spicy kick from the yellow dried aji paste. The dish is shredded chicken, aji, shrimp, chicken stock and panada, a creamy paste made out of bread and milk, used as a binding agent and a legacy of Italians who immigrated to Peru. The last  group had dessert, which was one of the classiest and oldest desserts from Lima, Mazamorra Morada, a porridge like dessert made out of purple corn, fresh fruit and thickened with sweet potato flour.

The evening was delicious and fun – every dish tasted great and they absolutely loved the food.
Read more…

Sam Fine Shoe Launch Party

I recently catered the launch party for celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine’s new shoe line, “Sam Fine by Cavage,” at DEX Studios NYC. They gave me the option to choose my own menu and I was thrilled to serve Peruvian flavors to the guests, including models and celebrities, and they absolutely loved it!

I decided to keep things on the lighter side, especially since there were models coming. Here’s what I served:

Mini Potato Causitas with Lump Crab Meat and Blue Olive Aioli – mashed potato seasoned with yellow aji pepper and lime, mixed with lump crab meat and topped with blue olive aioli made with botija olives blended with olive oil and garlic.

Mini Black Organic Quinoa Cakes with tomato avocado salsa – I used black quinoa, which is new to the U.S. market and also organic. The cakes were lightly fried and topped with a marinated lime tomato avocado salsa.

Peruvian Corn and White Cheese Skewers with Huancaina sauce – this is a classic hors d’oeuvres from Peru. They are very easy to make and assemble: skewer three corn kernels and top with a square cut piece of cheese (Feta works well). The Huancaina sauce is a creamy blend of cheese and aji amarillo, mixed with milk, garlic and sometimes crackers. It generally tops cooked potatoes, but you can eat it with anything. My favorite is French baguette.

Mini Sliced Beef Filets with Huacatay sauce (black mint) on garlic crostini – the seared beef filet crostini were topped with a black mint sauce that is easily made in a blender with Huacatay, olive oil and garlic. (Huacatay can be found frozen at any ethnic store)

Herb Crusted Chicken Skewers with Rocoto Aioli – Rocoto is one of the hottest aji peppers in Peru, but they are delicious. To take some of the heat off, I soak them overnight in water. Drain them and blend with a mayonnaise of olive oil and garlic.

Culintro “Flavors of South America”

Potato Causitas

Recently I was honored to be part of Culintro’s “Flavors of South America” event at the beautiful Bulthaup showroom in Soho. Culintro is a culinary trade organization and they have a monthly cocktail series where their members can network over drinks and hors d’ oeuvres, as well as other programs.

Three other chefs and I made dishes representing different South American countries from Peru (of course!) to Brazil to Venezuela. I made a Peruvian classic: potato causitas with shrimp, avocado and pickled onion. I also made my alfajores cookies that everyone seems to love. Look for recipes soon!

© Copyright 2010 Marita Peruvian Cooking