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As I mentioned the other day, I have been on a chipotle kick.  I’ve been thinking about new creative ways to include chipotle-flavors in my meals for a while now, and while planning a side dish for tacos the other day, I realized that it would be the perfect flavor to add to a black bean and corn salad.  This Southwestern themed salad made a great side dish for tacos, but with the quinoa and black beans it was also substantial enough for a healthy lunch the next day.  That makes it a double winner in my book.I make salad dressing all the time.  I’m not a huge fan of commercial dressings, especially when it’s so easy to make a personalized, homemade vinaigrette with just  few simple ingredients: oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Maybe add some honey.  Or even better, just drizzle oil and balsamic over a salad with a little salt like everyone did in Italy.  It had never really crossed my mind to make a spicy vinaigrette, and I’m kicking myself in retrospect, because it was fantastic.  (Note, if you don’t want to make your own dressing, I’m sure you could find a store-bought one easily that would also be great with these flavors.)

To start, you’ll want to cook the quinoa.  Check your package of quinoa for specific instructions, mine called for 1 1/4 cups of water for every cup of quinoa.  Rinse the little quinoa seeds (I use a really fine mesh strainer and rinse them in 3 batches, because the only fine one I could find happens to also be very small) while your water comes to a boil on the stove.  As soon as its boiling, add the quinoa, lower the heat, and cover the pot.  Follow the instructions on the back for how long to cook the quinoa, and how long to let it sit after its done cooking.  When it has rested for the required amount of time, remove the lid and fluff it up.  It should have absorbed all of the water, and the quinoa will have puffed up and the little spiral germ will have come out.  You could use red quinoa too, and it would look really pretty.  Put the quinoa into the large bowl that you will be making the salad in and let it cool completely. (Fluff it occasionally to ensure it cools all the way through).

While the quinoa cools, prep the rest of the salad ingredients and make the vinaigrette.  Drain and rinse 1 can of black beans and 1 can of corn kernels (or the equivalent of freshly cooked and cooled beans, and fresh or thawed frozen corn).

Chop up a red onion (you will use roughly a third of the onion, I cooked some of the rest with taco meat, and refrigerated the rest), a large handful of cilantro leaves, and tomatoes.  I used a container of little roma tomatoes, because it’s winter and regular tomatoes are not at their peak right now, and just halved them because they were so small.  You could also add a chopped bell pepper if you’d like.

Now for the salad dressing.  Because this was an experiment, I decided to keep the dressing as simple as possible and base it off of my typical vinaigrette ratios, but add extra sweetener and a couple of new flavors to switch things up a bit.  I started with a 1:1 ratio of oil to vinegar, although we decided that you could go a little bit lighter on the oil if desired or use a mixture of half olive oil and half canola or other light oil to let the other flavors shine a bit more.  I used apple cider vinegar because I thought that the flavor would meld well with the chiles.  Red wine vinegar, or possibly even white, would also work, although it will bring a very different flavor.

To start, take one chipotle pepper from a can of chipotle in adobo (note, these pepper store really well once opened, just put them in an airtight container and refrigerate), and mince it as finely as you can.  I cut it into little bitty strips, then chopped those finely, then went through and chopped it all again twice, basically crushing them with my knife.  It will give you roughly two teaspoons of minced chipotle.  You could use chipotle seasoning if you want, but you’ll have to experiment with the amount.

Place the chipotles into a bowl, and add 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup of your chosen vinegar, roughly 1 1/3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard (this was a last-minute addition, so I just eyeballed it), 2 tablespoons lime juice, and somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup of agave nectar or honey.  I started with 1/4 cup, and added a little extra later.  Add a little garlic powder and paprika, plus a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Use a whisk to completely combine the dressing and taste test.  At this point you can add extra agave or honey, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, etc. if needed.  You won’t taste the chipotle too strongly unless you get a piece right on your tongue, but the flavor will come out  the longer the dressing sits, and will show up nicely when on the salad, so think twice before adding more peppers or any of the adobo sauce.

Pour the dressing into a salad dressing bottle or empty jam jar- there will likely be some left over, so choose one with a lid!  Now you’ll be able to see those oh-so-important pieces of chipotle pepper.  The dressing will settle while sitting, so be sure to shake it up before pouring.

By now the quinoa should be cool, so add all of the ingredients to it.  Corn, beans, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.  Toss it all together.  So many pretty colors!  If you won’t be serving this right away it can be put in the refrigerator until you are ready.

Right before you serve the salad, slice up an avocado and add it to the top.  The avocado won’t hold up well in the refrigerator with the leftovers, so don’t mix it into the salad unless you’re sure that you’ll eat it all immediately.  Serve with the chipotle vinaigrette and enjoy!

Southwestern Quinoa Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette

For Salad:
1 cup quinoa
1 can sweet corn
1 can black beans
1 package small roma or cherry tomatoes
1/3 of a red onion, diced
roughly 1/3 cup cilantro

For Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons finely minced canned chipotle peppers
1/2 cup olive oil, (can be reduced slightly)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/4-1/3 cup agave nectar or honey
1 1/3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika

1. Rinse quinoa and cook according to package instructions.  Set aside and let cool completely.

2. Prep salad fillings (except avocado, as it will brown if sliced too early).  Drain and rinse corn and black beans.  Rinse and half tomatoes.  Dice red onion, refrigerate extra.  Chop cilantro.  Use more or less cilantro depending on your preference.

3. Make salad dressing.  Remove membranes and seeds from chipotle chile, and mince as finely as possible.  Place in bowl with all other ingredients, and whisk until fully combined.  Taste to make sure seasonings don’t need adjusting.  Pour into salad dressing container or jam jar with lid.  Shake vigorously before pouring as chiles and spices will settle.

4. When quinoa is cool, add all other ingredients and toss to combine.  Chill until ready to serve.  Chop an avocado right before serving (toss with salad if you expect all of it to be consumed, otherwise place directly on plates or as an option on the table, as they will brown and turn unpleasant if refrigerated with leftovers).  Serve with the vinaigrette.  Enjoy!

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