Help Yourself to Ancient Secret Quinoa Salad

I’ve returned home from my trip to Key West and finally, back to my blog. I told a friend yesterday that bundling up in a jacket, hat, boots, scarf and mittens on my return to Minnesota has made me a bit crabby. I miss the ease of walking out the door of my guesthouse in Key West into warm sunshine.

I miss a lot of things about Key West. The food, especially. I was in Key West for 8 days attending the Key West Literary Seminar and a writing workshop. Restaurants, receptions and catered luncheons is where my meals came from during my stay. I enjoyed delicious food at every meal.

One bright, sunny day I walked with a few new writer friends to an organic cafe for lunch. We walked several blocks from the seminar hub at the San Carlos Institute on Duval Street to Help Yourself, an old gas station turned restaurant tucked into a residential area of Key West.

Inside, health-conscious diners make their choices from large menus posted on the wall and order at the counter. I had a hard time deciding what my lunch would be as I perused the list of salads made with ingredients like quinoa, goji berries, tempeh, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts and chickpeas. The list of wraps, all made with whole wheat tortillas, tempted my taste buds. How often have you seen a wild salmon wrap on a cafe menu? And then, there were all the listings under “hot stuff.” Coconut curry and Korean BBQ sounded wonderful, but a little much for my lunchtime appetite.

I finally ordered the Ancient Secret Salad made of quinoa, gogi berries, apple, almonds, chickpeas, mixed greens and orange-cumin vinaigrette. And a hummus wrap with chickpea hummus, quinoa tabouli, cucumber, red onion, sprouts and mixed greens. And a smoothie made of 100% organic frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and banana. I downed every bit of my lunch as I sat at an outdoor picnic table visiting with my friends. It was all fantastic.

The friendly people working at Help Yourself were very happy to share their recipe for “Ancient Secret” quinoa salad.

Touted as a nutritional wonder, quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a complete protein, offering an almost perfect balance of essential amino acids needed for tissue growth and repair in humans. It’s also high in calcium and iron, and a relatively good source of vitamin E and several of the B vitamins. Quinoa’s unusually large, nutrient-rich germ is visible as the white circles that cling to each tiny grain and fall off when it is cooked. Quinoa is available in natural food stores and well-stocked supermarkets.

Busy, health-minded people appreciate grainlike quinoa because it cooks quickly. Before cooking, though, always rinse quinoa. It has a natural protective resin-like coating of saponin which is very bitter tasting. Quinoa is rinsed before it is packaged and sold, but it is best to rinse it again at home before use to remove any of the powdery residue that may remain on the seeds.

When cooked, quinoa has a fluffy yet slightly crunchy texture and a nutty flavor.

Goji berries are relatively new to the health food arena, at least for me. Sometime in the last 5 or 6 years, I heard all the stars were snacking on goji berries for anti-aging purposes. I immediately went to my local food co-op where I found a small bag of these red, raisin look-alikes. They taste a bit spicy, something like a combination of paprika and cumin. The small chewy bits are definitely not sweet. Goji berries are touted as a “super food” due to their high nutritional value. They have more beta-carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach and 21 trace minerals. They contain extremely high levels of antioxidants. Maybe nature’s equivalent to the multivitmin? These days Goji berries can be found in health food stores and well-stocked supermarkets. But, be prepared to spend much more on goji berries than on raisins!

I know this Help Yourself salad will taste just as wonderful eaten at my kitchen table as I gaze out at the winter wonderland that surrounds my house. But, somehow it just won’t be the same as sitting under the Key West afternoon sun.

If you get to Key West, you’ll find Help Yourself at 829 Fleming Street. The cafe is open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Check out their website at:

When you get to Help Yourself, be sure to have a smoothie!

Help Yourself “Ancient Secret” Quinoa Salad

(Recipe courtesy of Help Yourself Cafe, Key West, Florida)

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas or canned organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup dried goji berries
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Orange segments or sliced apples, for garnish

Place the quinoa in a saucepan and add the water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. The liquid should be absorbed and the quinoa fluffy.

In a large bowl, whisk together ground cumin, orange juice, salt and olive oil. Add the cooked quinoa and stir to coat. Add the chickpeas, goji berries, apple and almonds, tossing gently to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Chill before serving. Garnish with orange segments or apple slices. Serves 4.

9 thoughts on “Help Yourself to Ancient Secret Quinoa Salad

    • Lindsey, have you ever tried popping quinoa like popcorn? My friend Robin Asbell, author of The New Whole Grains Cookbook, says you can heat quinoa in a dry pan and it will pop. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like it would be another way to enjoy quinoa in a salad of fresh greens — just sprinkle popped quinoa over the top.

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  2. How weird…..I was just going to blog this exact same recipe. Found it in a cookbook called “The Flavors of the Flordia Keys” that I picked up at the library last week. Since I already blogged a quinoa salad last week, I thought I should wait a bit. Looks like you beat me to this yummy recipe. I even found the goji berries at the store last week. I would rather have been in Flordia than in the library however!

    • Yes, Melissa. This must be a recipe that Help Yourself owner, Charlie and manager, Christine share for publication. I did buy Linda Gassenheimer’s, The Flavor of the Florida Keys when I was in Key West. It looks like it is filled with great recipes. You may have to go to Key West for a visit to Help Yourself. It’s much more fun being there than reading about it in a book!

  3. YUMMY! ALL of it….the recipe, your descriptive powers of your stay in Key West….giving us the Link to Help Yourself….ALL of it!

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