21 April 2013

Quinoa Lunch Salad

I promised you something new and savory as I don't want you to think I sit around and make sweets all day...and here I am with something that takes no time to pull together and tastes great. At first glance it may look like your average quinoa salad but it's a bit of a hybrid; not a pilaf side, not a greens salad topped with grains but something of a grain and green salad dressed up with nuts and legumes and cheese, where you're going for a quinoa proportion that coats itself over the greens and the other components chime in equally. Eat this on it's own, or I can imagine it topped with another form of protein like some flaked salmon or a seared slab of tofu.

Feel free to play around with the proportions to suit yourself but know that for me it was a bit of an exercise in restraint. I found that just a few things thrown into the mix is all I needed for variety, texture and balance. Think of it as a quartet, with a few trusty players bringing in all the right notes. I had roasted asparagus on hand, but I'd imagine some broccoli may be nice too (but I'm a bit of an roast asparagus fiend).

It started with a jar of leftover quinoa in the fridge. When you cook a pot of quinoa just right-that is, fluffy, delicately tender, cooked in a proper amount of liquid and well-seasoned, you better hope you have some leftovers. Once cooled, quinoa with mostly separated kernels is great to throw into salads like this.

I balance it out here with a bit of chopped leftover roasted asparagus, a handful of chickpeas, cubed fresh mozzarella, big torn handfuls of arugula, and a showering of halved toasted almonds. It's punched up with a slivered garlic, lemon and olive oil dressing, some thyme and parsley and finished with sea salt and served at room temperature.

One tip I'll emphasize here is that it helps for things like this to have the components already prepared. You can have roasted asparagus in the fridge, your mozzarella easily chop-able,  your almonds toasted and chopped, and your chickpeas drained. Then you just throw in and toss.

Quinoa is not a grain you want to soak and then cook. It'll get mushy and porridge-like upon cooking (been there, done that). For some tips, I resorted to these nifty instructions. It's not that I forgot how to do it...but it doesn't hurt to go back to basics and play around with what works. Err on the side of less liquid for best results and be sure to let it sit for 5 minutes on the burner with the heat off. Once you have yourself a bowl of it, fork-fluffed and cooled, you have a template to go from.

Light and energizing, I consider this an ideal meal to eat before leaving the house for an afternoon of being out and about. It will keep you full without weighing you down; and quinoa and chickpeas are both good sources of protein.

Ouinoa Lunch Salad

Serves 2 
*Scant cup cooked, cooled quinoa
A hunk of fresh mozzarella ( chopped to yield about 1/2 c)
6-7 roasted asparagus spears, chopped into thirds or fourths
3 handfuls fresh baby arugula, torn in half
1/4-1/2 c drained cooked chickpeas
1/4 c whole toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, slivered
1/2 small lemon, squeezed, juice divided
Scant 2-3 T olive oil
Few sprigs parsley and thyme
Cracked/ground coarse sea salt

Start by separating some thyme leaves from the stem and mix a little olive oil into them as well as a crack of salt. Set aside. Next mix slivered garlic and half the lemon juice and a grind of salt with a glug of the olive oil. Set aside.

Separate your almonds and mozzarella and pour a 1/2 the thyme/oil mixture on each, briefly tossing to combine. 

Mix quinoa, chickpeas, chopped asparagus, torn arugula and the lemon-garlic-oil together, to coat, so that the quinoa is separated and spread evenly throughout the greens, then add the cheese and 1/2 the almonds. Toss again, sprinkle with the reserved almonds and a few grinds of coarse salt.

*Cooking quinoa: Measure 1: scant 2 quinoa to liquid (I used half veg broth and half water for liquid). Rinse kernels under fine mesh strainer, shake out water. Heat saucepan over medium, pour in quinoa and dry toast, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed, a minute about. Add liquid and pinch of salt, stir once, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover and let cook 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Pour out onto a lightly oiled (if desired) baking sheet to cool and separate. Store in a jar in fridge a few days or freeze any leftovers.

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