Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Extremely California Salad Was the Centerpiece of my Extremely California Youth

by 
Besha Rodell
August 19, 2021

My initial California experience was so utterly Californian, it borders on comedic. I was 19, and a road trip to the Bay Area turned into a relocation when my mother rented out my bedroom in New York as soon as I left the state. The two friends I drove with returned home, and I stayed on the couch in Oakland I'd found through acquaintances.

The couch where I landed belonged to a house full of young people, also from the East Coast, who were living the California dream. They shopped at the Berkeley Bowl and worked for AmeriCorps, doing good deeds for $600 a month. I decided to join as well, mainly because it seemed so very Californian to serve the community for a living rather than serve drunk old men in bad bars, which is what I'd been doing in New York.

Eventually I moved off the couch and into a warehouse in East Oakland with a girl named Sarah from Nashville and two brothers from Poughkeepsie who were also AmeriCorps "volunteers." The warehouse was huge and bare-bones and we spray-painted the walls and built staircases to nowhere and ate vegetarian meals together, which was a difficulty for me since all the recipes in the sparkly hand-written recipe book I brought from home were 100% not vegetarian.

My housemate Sarah, coming from a Southern family, was also not used to cooking vegetarian, but she ended up contributing the recipe that became the household favorite — a recipe I still make to this day. This was 1997, and quinoa was not a well-known or trendy ingredient, but somehow Sarah's mom had come across a recipe for quinoa salad that took our household by storm. "What's quinoa?" I remember asking when it first came up.

"It's the ancient grain of the future!!" our housemate Jack exclaimed. I still refer to quinoa this way.

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I left California after a boy broke my heart, moved back to New York, lost touch with Sarah, ruined my friendship with Jack by kissing him, and only returned to California decades later when I got a job in Los Angeles. But I'm transported to that warehouse, those days, that thrilling moment of youth and manifest destiny, every single time I make this recipe.

This is a recipe that I employed years later when I was working as a cook at a natural foods grocery store in Carrboro, North Carolina, that I made for my vegan best friend after she had her first baby in Los Angeles, that I make in huge batches in the summer and store in the fridge because it keeps so well for days, that I serve under fish or inside flour tortillas or as a filling side salad at potlucks. It is an absolute MVP of my sparkly recipe book, even today.

Sarah's Quinoa Salad (Modified over the years by moi)

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Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, rinsed & drained

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 cans black beans, drained

1 large red or orange bell pepper

2 medium tomatoes, chopped and de-seeded

4 scallions, chopped

4 tbsp cilantro, chopped

4 tbsp parsley, chopped

A few handfuls of Fifth Season spinach (optional)

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Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, rinsed & drained

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 cans black beans, drained

1 large red or orange bell pepper

2 medium tomatoes, chopped and de-seeded

4 scallions, chopped

4 tbsp cilantro, chopped

4 tbsp parsley, chopped

A few handfuls of Fifth Season spinach (optional)

Ingredients

1 cup quinoa, rinsed & drained

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups vegetable broth

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 cans black beans, drained

1 large red or orange bell pepper

2 medium tomatoes, chopped and de-seeded

4 scallions, chopped

4 tbsp cilantro, chopped

4 tbsp parsley, chopped

A few handfuls of Fifth Season spinach (optional)

Directions

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan along with cumin seeds. When cumin begins to become fragrant, add quinoa and stir until toasted, approximately 5 mins.

2. Stir in broth and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

3. Meanwhile in a large bowl, whisk the remaining olive oil with the lemon juice. Add bell pepper, tomato, scallions, cilantro and parsley. Add black beans.

4. Add quinoa and spinach (if using) and stir to combine.

About the Author

Besha Rodell

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