A fresh twist on a classic combination. This Cranberry Quinoa Salad with Orange, Mint and Kale is an easy Thanksgiving side dish for your holiday turkey or weeknight chicken! Sponsored by Whole Foods. Find more of my pomegranate recipes.
One of my favorite meals of all time is the classic American Thanksgiving menu. Every year I look forward to it. I think I’m more excited about the leftovers, as I get to savor the meal days later. The flavor combinations, the colors and just having everyone together (if only for one meal) makes this holiday more treasured to me than Christmas.
No gifts are exchanged on Thanksgiving. It is not about presents, toys or the other materialistic things that bombard our holidays. It is about family, love and being thankful for what we have.
I do not always host the Thanksgiving feast, but I welcome the job when I do. I love cooking everything from scratch, and everyone notices the difference a fresh, homemade meal tastes.
Thanksgiving does not have to come from a box or can. And this Cranberry Quinoa Salad with Orange, Mint and Kale is a prime example of a healthy and delicious dish.
What is quinoa?
If you haven’t noticed, quinoa has taken over the food community by storm. It is not a grain, but the edible starchy seed of a flowering plant in the amaranth family. Quinoa originates from the Andes in South America. Archaeologists have found evidence of quinoa dating back 5,200 to 7,000 years ago. It’s no wonder why it’s call an ancient pseudo-grain!
Quinoa comes in assorted colors. Most common colors of quinoa are white/tan, red and black. They also come in purple, pink, grey, orange and green. The different varieties of quinoa vary in texture and flavor.
The white quinoa cooks the fastest. But don’t fret. The difference is only in a few minutes. Quinoa, no matter what color, still cooks up faster than rice.
Health benefits of quinoa
Quinoa can be enjoyed in practically every health food diet out there. The gluten-free crowd loves quinoa because, surprise: it’s a seed not a grain, and it’s gluten-free. The paleo crew loves it because it is an ancient “pseudo-grain” and is totally unprocessed.
The low-carb enthusiasts love that this is fiber rich and high in protein. And vegetarians love quinoa because it’s a complete protein source. Quinoa is also rich in Vitamin B, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. So, if you haven’t tried any quinoa recipes, do you realize what you have been missing?!
Quinoa naturally has a coating around it that produces a bitter taste. Most quinoa that we purchase in stores today has this coating removed. Some people think you still need to wash your quinoa before cooking it, to remove the bitter flavor and to aid in digestion. I have found that most varieties of quinoa sold today does not require the extra rinsing.
I personally, do not rinse my quinoa before cooking it and I have never had any issues with bitterness or digestion troubles. If you prefer to give it a rinse, feel free to do so. It doesn’t take up much extra time or effort to do so.
Quinoa’s size makes it a quick cooking dish. You cook it as you would rice. For every cup of quinoa, cook in 2 cups of water. To cook quinoa, I put the quinoa in the pot with the water and bring it to boil together.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot and cook until the water is absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork.
Like rice, you can add a dash of salt in the water as you cook the quinoa. You can always season it after the quinoa is cooked, as well. You can also cook quinoa in vegetable, chicken or beef broth. You can also cook quinoa in milk or coconut milk for a breakfast option.
Quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and once cooked, resembles tiny bits of rice. A simple substitute of rice for quinoa, and you’ve got a healthier and more satisfying meal. You can grind the quinoa to make a flour for gluten-free baking. (click here for even MORE quinoa recipes!)
How to keep quinoa fluffy and not mushy
Many complaints about quinoa I get from readers is that it turns out mushy. This is usually because it was cooked for too long and/or with too much water. Also, once the water is absorbed and the quinoa is done, remove the lid from your pot to release the steam. Continual steaming will also cause your quinoa to turn mushy.
Can you eat raw cranberries?
This Cranberry Quinoa Salad is unique because it features raw cranberries. And YES, you can eat raw cranberries! Cranberries are naturally tart and you typically see recipes that cook the cranberries or use dried cranberries. I chop them up raw and add a touch of honey and oranges to balance the tartness with some sweetness.
Raw cranberries are rich in phytochemicals that protect your body from sickness. They are also rich in antioxidants, fiber, calcium and Vitamins C, A and K. So if you want to try something new this Thanksgiving, put away that cranberry sauce and enjoy raw cranberries in this delicious Cranberry Quinoa Salad.
How to seed a pomegranate
Orange and cranberries aren’t the only fruits in this beautiful salad. I also added my family’s favorite fall fruit, pomegranate, to the mix. Now pomegranate is another antioxidant powerhouse. I’m so happy that my kids eat it up by the bowlfuls that I put it in everything!
Seeding a pomegranate may seem to be tedious, but it does get easier once you get the hang of it. I have a great post and video that shows you how to quickly seed a pomegranate without getting pomegranate juice stains everywhere. Click here to learn how to seed a pomegranate.
Now this Cranberry Quinoa Salad is really something unique and different to show off on your Thanksgiving table. There is still the classic orange and cranberry combination we all love, but without the toothache from all the sugar that most cranberry sauces contain.
I added nuts in this salad for a bit of crunch, kale for green and nutrients, and fresh mint to round out the flavor. It is a light and refreshing “salad” that is delicious cold or room temperature. And look at the gorgeous colors!
I hope you add something new and different, like this cranberry quinoa salad to your Thanksgiving table. That bit of old mixed in with new makes for a fun and delicious meal with family and friends.
Need some more beautiful side dishes to brighten your Thanksgiving table?
Disclosure: As part of the Kitchen PLAY Community, I was paid a stipend to develop a Thanksgiving recipe for Whole Foods Market. All of the opinions I expressed here are my own. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t blog about it!