Bar none, this is my favorite way to eat quinoa. It’s so good in fact that I carted quinoa over to China just so I could make this dish. It’s nice to bring bits of home when you’re living overseas, and this is especially true for food items you can’t find in your transplanted country- comfort food in the real sense of the phrase. The quinoa made transcontinental voyages nestled in the suitcase alongside spices, lentils, dried fruit, and sriracha, among others. Truth be told, quinoa doesn’t rank on my list of favorite comfort foods but Mexican food is high on that list; and though Mexican Quinoa is about as authentic as fajitas, it hits a lot of the flavor profiles that makes Mexican food tasty: limes, cilantro, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and peppers.
Halfway across the world, I took the dish to potlucks, served it at dinner parties, and even at a big Tex-Mex fiesta I threw where I served blackened chicken, homemade green chicken enchiladas and red shrimp and bacon enchiladas, honey-chipotle wings, and chili – a pretty amazing feat considering cheese and Mexican ingredients and spices are difficult to come by in China, plus I was cooking out of a toaster oven! Funny how carting the quinoa halfway across the world was not the most difficult part of making the dish. Though cilantro, corn, tomatoes, and peppers were readily available at grocery stores and international stores stocked canned beans, limes were difficult to find. I’d sometimes find them at Metro, an expat godsend for wine and international food (I once met a couple who brought Metro tortillas and hot sauce to a teppanyaki restaurant), and then I found a grocery store in Shanghai that not only carried them but also delivered them straight to your door for free if you spent about $30 in groceries- about a 200 mile trip one way!
This dish is also special to me because I first learned a similar dish at a cooking class that I took with my sister ages ago (as in pre-kid days, which does seem to be a lifetime ago). We ate our way through several dishes that day but the quinoa was the standout, and it shortly became a dish we recreated and perfected over the years. Food memories are wonderful things but the dish must live up to the memories, and this dish has succeeded in marking its presence.
Mexican Quinoa is light, vibrant, and colorful to boot. It’s perfect for a summer potluck, great on its own, and even better as a side for Blackened Tilapia Tacos or Salsa Verde Salmon.