Cook a grain.  Chop some vegetables.  Add beans, fruit, and/or cheese.  Toss with fresh herbs and vinaigrette.  This quinoa salad is but one variation on theme I repeat over and over all summer long (see here and here), one that yields and endless supply of packable, weekday lunches or easy, warm weather dinners (just add something from the grill).

Chewy, nutty quinoa is my all-time favorite grain for salads, but bulgur, couscous, brown rice, and barley are all good, too.  Practically any vegetable is fair game — some need to be cooked first (grill or roast squash and eggplant, steam asparagus and peas), others are fine raw (celery, cucumbers), a few can go either way (tomatoes, peppers).  Grapes, peaches, nectarines, pineapples, mangos, even strawberries and blueberries add color and sweetness, while crumbly cheeses like feta, goat, and ricotta salata add savory depth.  Poached or grilled chicken or shrimp can replace beans.  Anything goes, really, as long as you balance colors and textures, and pick a vinaigrette that suits your other flavors: delicate vegetables, like cucumbers and peas, pair well with mild vinegars like champagne and rice;  eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes can stand up to bolder red and white wine vinegars.

Quinoa salad with peas, grapes, and feta

Yield:  Makes about 6 cups

1 c. sugar snap peas, trimmed

1/2 c. shelled English peas

2 heaping cups cooked quinoa (drained and cooled)

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (organic varieties usually have better texture, if you can find them)

1 c. red grapes, halved

4 oz. good-quality feta cheese, crumbled

6 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

1 handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. champagne vinegar (or use white wine), or more to taste

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a kettle or medium saucepan of water to a boil.  Place snap peas and English peas in a colander in the sink, and slowly pour the boiling water over them.  (Alternatively, you can blanch the peas in a saucepan of boiling, salted water for a minute or two, but if your peas are really fresh they need only a quick dousing to brighten their color.)  Immediately shock the peas under cold tap water, then set aside to drain.

Toss all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Adjust oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper as needed.  Salad keeps well in the fridge for at least 3 days.  Serve at room temperature.

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