Christopher Columbus set sail in August 1492, three days after the deadline set by the Alhambra Decree for the expulsion or forced conversion of the Jews in Spain. This has fueled persistent, but unproven, rumors that Columbus was a Jew. However, there was one Jew who was instrumental among the crew: Luis de Torres, a gifted linguist who was fluent in Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.
Columbus hired Torres to converse with the Jews he expected to find in the court of the Chinese emperor, as well as merchants in the lucrative spice markets of the Orient. Torres became the first Jew of the Americas when he and 38 other sailors remained on the island of Cuba in the settlement Columbus christened La Navidad.
Although Columbus never found the Western sea passage to Asia and the riches of the spice trade, there is no doubt that the American continent yielded a bounty of some of the most delicious and nutritious crops known to man. The newfound culinary wealth included potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, quinoa, avocados, peppers, beans, tomatoes and chocolate.
To the Aztecs of Mexico, corn was a sacred crop that played a major part in their mythology. Subsisting mainly on a diet of fruit and vegetables, the Aztecs ate corn and beans every day, a food pairing that provides all nine essential amino acids, as well as fiber, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium.
In the Inca civilization, quinoa was the sacred crop and was called “chisaya mama,” the mother of all grains, and was used in religious ceremonies. Originating in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru, quinoa is a seed that belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. Quinoa is a superfood that provides protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and folate.
In making our favorite, most loved and most requested summer salads, we take inspiration from these two fascinating civilizations.
Sharon’s Southwestern Salad includes Old World salad ingredients such as Persian cucumber, purple and green onion, parsley and cilantro paired with the New World delights of corn and black beans, avocado and peppers. Sriracha and chili powder, lime and mayo in the dressing add luscious creaminess, a hint of heat and a happy citrus tang. Crispy corn chips or tortilla strips add a perfect element of crunch, making this salad truly irresistible.
Rachel’s Quinoa Salad is a classic Moroccan couscous salad reimagined for a gluten-free world. The quinoa is combined with all the classic ingredients of an Israeli salad (cucumber, tomato and peppers) and enhanced with the refreshing flavors of mint, basil and parsley, the salty umami of Kalamata olives and the meaty crunch of roasted pistachios. The savory freshness of these ingredients pair perfectly with the nutty, grainy texture of the quinoa.
We can learn from the ancient wisdom of the Aztecs and Incas: Plant-based diets are beneficial to the environment, as well as our hearts and our waistlines. And these salads don’t taste like any kind of sacrifice at all!
Sharon’s Southwestern Salad
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 ears of corn, cooked with kernels removed
1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 cup green onions, finely chopped
2 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 orange pepper, sliced into thin 1-inch strips
1 yellow pepper, sliced into thin 1-inch strips
1 small purple onion, finely chopped
1 large avocado, diced
1 10-ounce bag blue or yellow corn chips, for garnish
Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients.
In large serving bowl, combine beans and corn and dress with vinaigrette.
Just before serving, toss with remaining ingredients.
Arrange corn chips around salad.
Rachel’s Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa, cooked
1/2 large English cucumber or 4 Persian cucumbers, diced
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, cut in quarters
1/2 cup basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1 cup toasted shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, finely chopped (if available)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Rinse quinoa thoroughly before cooking unless package indicates it’s pre-rinsed.
In heavy medium saucepan, bring quinoa to a boil in 1 3/4 cups of water. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.
Set aside to cool, then chill.
Whisk together dressing ingredients.
Chop vegetables, olives and herbs and place in large bowl.
Add quinoa and toss with dressing. Let rest for 1 hour before serving so quinoa absorbs dressing.
Just before serving, garnish with pistachios.