Quinoa Salad – a Post-Whole30 luxury!

IMG_4521Today, I am making quinoa salad for the first time in a long time; it qualifies, in my mind, as a very healthy food, but it was forbidden based on the no-legumes-or-grains part of the Whole30 experience. My favorite part of it is the fact that, as a person who doesn’t crave meat with every meal, it’s a way to keep getting protein and keep myself full for many hours while still eating something “lighter” than a serving of meat.

Here’s my approach, which stays new to me because I vary up the different ingredients:

  • Start the quinoa: I make about a cup of quinoa at a time unless I’m entertaining other people, because it’s fast and easy to make.
  • Pick the veggies: My favorites, in no particular order are: chopped cucumber, diced tomatoes, cooked spinach, chopped bell peppers, or cooked cubes of squash or zucchini. Husband likes it with broccoli, but that kinda ruins it for me… I cannot help it! Broccoli isn’t my veggie, it seems.
  • Pick the spicing: with tomatoes, I always add basil; with most veggies, I always give a dusting of garlic, pepper, and salt. Lately, I’ve been really entranced by chipotle seasoning, so that gets thrown on anything when I’m feeling like I need a good kick from the salad.
  • Add the garnishes: To add crunch, a few toasted pecans or walnuts are wonderful. I like crumbled goat cheese or feta (don’t overdo it with the salt if you add these though; they seem to add saltiness on their own) to make the salad a little creamy, and if you have enough veggies relative to the quinoa, you can dress it with your favorite ranch or balsamic vinaigrette, though that can be weird if there’s mostly quinoa and not so much on the veggies.

Regardless, this salad is delicious warm when you first make it, and then can either be eaten hot or cold later as a lunch at work. I’m hoping to create one that I enjoy for breakfasts now that I’m trying to not make all my breakfasts pastry-centric (it’s a problem!). It’s not Whole30, but it definitely makes me feel ready to face the day.

Quinoa with sweet tomato, onion, and summer herbs

On Friday, I really traipsed into the thicket of tomatoes in our backyard and emerged with tons – 30 or more cherry and 10 San Marzanos. I want to freeze some to eventually can sauce, but a more pressing need presented itself: my aunt and uncle were coming over for dinner! They are the sweetest folks and one is vegetarian and the other is dairy/gluten free, so quinoa was an obvious option.

I prepared about 1 cup of quinoa according to the directions on the bag, but the long roasting time meant that I did that much later. I started by cutting up the cherry tomatoes and some San Marzanos into the roasting pan pictured. I then sliced and diced one purple onion and 4 cloves of garlic, and added maybe a teaspoon of olive oil to keep it all from sticking. I roasted it at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes.

When they came out, I added cut chives, basil, and oregano – all fresh because I’d gotten packets of fresh herbs from the community garden, and that stuff doesn’t last long! I left the whole roasting pan on the stove to stay toasty while my aunt and uncle got a tour of the house, but then added the hot quinoa to the veggies to mix up together.

We had quite a feast – Husband obviously made a salad, and I whipped up guacamole to make sure that everyone had a hearty enough meal. Afterwards was a gluten-free banana bread that I was pleased with, even though it was drier than I expected; I’ll post about it at some point. But sitting around the table, passing dishes and eating off placemats made me realize how much I missed that. When we’ve had our dinner parties, there have been too many people to sit down to table together, and that makes me think the next dinner “party” will just be, perhaps, 4 other folks. Last night was a less boisterous evening, but I think that the niceness of sharing the bounty of the garden and the chat that we all had about plants and electronic circuits and family history made me miss a regular sit-down dinner with family.

Walnut-Spinach Pesto on Quinoa!

I read a post online called How to Make Pesto out of (Almost) Anything and got very inspired; my basil crop has been lackluster (this is what I get for growing four kinds of herbs in one badly-drained bucket) but I had a box of spinach/spring mix that was almost bad when I put it in the freezer. This is what I do with greens that are a tad slimy, and I was intrigued to see if I could mix up a pesto that would mask the greens with delicious flavors.

I started by sautéing the greens with a lot of garlic – two enormous cloves that volume wise were more like three normal cloves, sliced. The greens got a quick splash of olive oil too, so that the garlic would brown up a little. While this was happening, I roasted some crushed walnuts till they made the whole house smell nutty.

In my darling three-dollar food processor I whipped those two together with salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese. I didn’t know why but I went with the advice to put a generous squeeze of lemon juice in from my trust lemon-shaped squeeze bottle of juice, and then added a little bit more olive oil. I had to get into the processor and scrape everything off the walls once, add just one more tablespoon of oil, and then voila!

I made the quinoa in the normal way (boil 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water, let simmer 15 minutes with the lid on or until the water was gone), and then cut in half about 12 cherry tomatoes because the crop is about to completely take off and I don’t want them piling up. I mixed the quinoa, all of the pesto, and the tomatoes, and when I served it, Husband declared it a success! He said it had a lot of flavor, which isn’t something he often says about vegetarian dishes. Shout out to E for being the first person to teach me that quinoa is a wonderful meal (she mixed cut cucumbers, raw tomato chunks, and feta with quinoa… SO REFRESHING.) and to N for always showing me new ways to use the old favorite. I also am so happy that I have a way to make something pesto-flavored that is disguising a whole box worth of sautéed greens, not just basil… Wonderful!