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Quinoa has made it into the mainstream, mostly based on its sheer nutritional value.

Pronounced keen-wah, it's not the easiest grain to cook. Rinsing, simmering and draining is usually required. But the payoff is a powerhouse of protein, with all eight essential amino acids and other nutrients that make it an unusually potent ingredient -- especially for vegetarians.

Besides being cooked and served on its own or with flavorings, quinoa is used in pilafs, salads and as breakfast cereal.

Native treasure: Quinoa was a staple of the ancient Incas in Central America. It was known as the "mother grain," and Incan emperors would ceremonially sow the first seeds of the new season, using gardening tools of gold.

Bitter beginning: If it hasn't been processed, quinoa needs to be soaked or rinsed before cooking. That's because it is naturally coated with a bitter compound that discourages birds. Much of the packaged quinoa on the market is already treated; quinoa bought in bulk needs a soak or rinse.

This salad, from Gourmet, uses nutty quinoa plus chewy, hearty bulgur to add substance to a relatively simple green salad. Add any vegetables you like, but don't add the dressing until you're ready to serve, because the lettuce will get soggy.

>Quinoa and Bulgur Salad with Feta

1/3 cup quinoa

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup bulgur

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled, or 2 teaspoons fresh

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 brine-cured black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and cut into slivers

1 cup thinly sliced cucumber

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped

2 radishes, or more to taste, quartered and thinly sliced

1/2 cup crumbled feta

1 head romaine or bibb lettuce, cut into 1/4 -inch ribbons (about 4 cups)

Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve between each change.

Stir together quinoa, 4 cups water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, and simmer, uncovered, until quinoa is just tender and germ starts to separate from grain, about 20 minutes. Drain well in sieve, then transfer to a medium bowl.

While quinoa is simmering, place bulgur in a bowl covered with 2 inches of warm water and soak until tender and chewy, about 10 minutes. Drain well in a sieve, then stir into drained quinoa. Cool grains completely, about 20 minutes.

While grains cool, stir together oil, lemon juice, mint, pepper and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and let stand 15 minutes, then stir into grains along with olives, cucumber, red pepper, radishes and feta. Toss grain mixture with lettuce. Serve immediately.

(Grains can be made ahead and kept, chilled and covered, one day. Bring to room temperature while the dressing stands.)

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com