choose-your-own quinoa salad

Due to some renovations in our building, we haven't been able to use our oven or stove for 8 days. We went out for dinner once last week, but neither of us are keen on going out too often, so I've been making all of our meals using our rice cooker and toaster oven. This is not much fun, let me tell you. But I do feel pretty inventive, and I'm definitely using the rice cooker to the utmost of its abilities! So far I've made pasta, soup, paella and quinoa in the rice cooker. You may hear more of my rice-cooker meals if we don't get the gas hooked up today, but I'm really hoping we do. It doesn't help that for the last week, I've been craving warm, stove-cooked meals, since Boston's been looking like this:
We can finally see the sun today, though, thank goodness. Anyway, while I've been wanting warm meals in the evenings, I usually have cold food for lunch, including leftovers, sandwiches, and salads. One good lunch salad I've picked up from the boyfriend is a simple, easily customized quinoa dish. Before I moved in and took over on the cooking, he used to make it each weekend so he'd have something to eat throughout the week. I get bored of having the same food every day, so I make it a little less often (or in smaller amounts), but it's a good staple to have, especially if you have a busy week ahead (or a week without an oven/stove...) and want something that will fill you up.

You can use any grain for this, really, but we like quinoa because it's so high in protein. The body takes longer to digest proteins than other kinds of food, so you'll be fuller longer.

Because we change up the flavor of ours every time, instead of a recipe, I'll give you the components. Think of it as a Choose-Your-Own Quinoa Adventure!

This one has balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sage, rosemary, cranberries, lots of black pepper.

Choose-Your-Own Quinoa Salad
  • Quinoa. If you're eating this as your entire lunch, you're going to want to bet on almost 1/2 C (dry) quinoa for each serving. So if you want it to last you all week, go for about 2 Cups of quinoa or a little more. Boil 2 parts water, then add 1 part quinoa, cover and reduce the mixture to a simmer (so, for two cups of dry quinoa, that's 4 cups of water), the way you'd cook rice or other grains, for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has ben absorbed. Put all the quinoa in a big bowl, and add the remaining ingredients.
  • Vegetables. To keep up the "salad" aspect of this dish, aim for at least 2-3 cups of veggies. Carrots, celery, onions, and some kind of chopped green (spinach, chard, kale) are good go-tos for any combination of other ingredients, but you can vary your veggies by what you have and what you feel like eating. You can just add them to the cooked quinoa raw, or, if you're like me and prefer your veggies a little softer, toss them into the pot in which you're cooking the quinoa during the last 5 minutes of cooking, so they soften a bit.
  • Liquid. I think 1/4 C oil and 1/4 C vinegar are pretty essential, but you can use any kind of oil and vinegar you want, to help vary the dish. Sometimes I use balsamic, sometimes apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I use olive oil, othertimes sesame oil for an asian flavor, and sometimes canola oil so the other flavors in the dish can shine. Add more of either ingredient to taste after you've finished adding all the components. You can also add a couple tablespoons of soy sauce or coconut milk or orange juice or any other liquids at this stage; the quinoa will soak up additional liquid as it cools.
  • Seasonings. Herbs and spices! You want at least a tablespoon of (dried) herbs and/or spices, and up to 1/2 C fresh. I like sage and rosemary for a fall-tasting one, or dried ginger and garlic for asian flavors, or curry powder for an Indian taste. Italian seasoning and herbes de provence are good blends, too. Add 1/2 tsp salt and up to 1 tsp pepper, then adjust to taste.
  • Protein. Optional, but tossing in some beans, cooked tofu, olives, or toasted nuts can give you more interesting textures, and help keep you fuller longer.
  • Fruit. Also optional, but I love adding dried raisins, currants, or cranberries to contrast with the vinegar and salt.
Mix it all up in a large bowl, and then keep it in the fridge. If you are making it to eat the same day, try to let it sit for at least 30-60 minutes to help the flavors develop.
This one (eaten at my desk at work) has Asian veggies and flavors--bok choy with carrots, celery, and scallions, seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, rice vingar, and some teriyaki-cooked tofu.


panda with cookie said... Best Blogger Tips

Kudos for you for making do! That's awesome.

Sarah said... Best Blogger Tips

great post! I love quinoa but haven't done a salad-style dish with is yet. Since I was going to make lentils and quinoa tonight for tomorrow's luch, I can put some of these ideas to use right away!