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Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Go-To No-Brainer Healthy Lunch

These days I am short on time, short on energy and low on brain cells by lunch. Which explains why I've become obsessed with quinoa bowls. 95% of you know what a quinoa bowl is, but I actually have some readers who do not live within a 5 mile radius of a Whole Foods and/or who aren't Millenials.

For their benefit, a short lecture on quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Quinoa is a superfood which has been around for thousands of years. A staple of the ancient Incan diet, the Spanish tried to eradicate it when they conquered Peru in the 1500s.  Fortunately for you, me and Whole Foods, quinoa is a resistant little crop and made a major comeback in the late 20th century. Quinoa is gluten-free, rich in protein, high in fiber, low-calorie and low-carb and stacked with vitamins and minerals. Basically everything fit people are always telling us we ought to be eating.

Your basic quinoa bowl recipe is quinoa + veggies + vinaigrette dressing. This can be eaten warm or cold. It can be made in advance and kept several days in the fridge. These bowls are perfect for an office lunch, a lunch on-the-go or a lunch eaten-hastily-at-the-counter-while-making-PB&Js-for-preschoolers. In other words, this is a good option for everyone. So jump on the bandwagon and make yourself a quinoa bowl STAT.

I've currently got the three recipes below on regular rotation:

Copycat Publix Quinoa Salad 
I picked up a take-and-go quinoa salad from Publix about a month ago and was instantly sure I needed to figure out how to recreate it. This one definitely benefits from at least an hour in the fridge to get all the flavors mingling.

Serves 2
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed 
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
Handful of Craisins
Handful of edamame (cooked and shelled)
Handful of pumpkin seeds

1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tsp olive oil
1 Tsp honey
1/2 Tsp orange zest

1. Cook quinoa according to package. (If the package does not tell you to cook quinoa in chicken or veggie broth, then disregard package directions and cook quinoa in chicken or veggie broth. You enhance both the flavor and nutritional value of your quinoa for about 2 calories. Do it.)

2. While quinoa cools, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, honey and orange zest.

3. Mix quinoa and the add-ins together in a bowl, then toss lightly with vinaigrette.

4. Enjoy!

Southwestern Quinoa Salad
I apologize in advance to those of you who are uncomfortable with ambiguity, this recipe is super adaptable and my measurements are more like approximations. 

Serves 1
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 roasted or baked sweet potato
1/4 cup black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 chopped scallion
Dash of cumin
Dash of paprika

2 squeezes of lime juice
1 drizzle of olive oil
A sprinkle of cilantro 

1. Cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth according to package directions.

2. Pull a leftover cooked sweet potato from your fridge.
If you don't have leftovers then it appears you will have to cook a potato. This is why you should always cook a little more than you're planning to eat for one meal, especially when we're talking roasted veggies. Baking your sweet potato or roasting it is fine for this recipe. It's really a texture thing. Roast if you want a little more bite to your bowl, bake the darn thing if chopping it is really too much work. I get it. If you decide to roast the sweet potato specifically for this recipe, now is the time to use your spices. Sprinkle the cubed sweet potato with cumin and paprika before tossing in olive oil and roasting at 375 degrees for 20ish minutes. Obviously skip the spices post-roast unless you are the type to walk on the wild side.

3. While quinoa cools (and/or sweet potato), whisk together your lime juice and olive oil. Alternatively skip this step and just drizzle both directly on top of your bowl. I warned you about this recipe.

4. Mix together quinoa, sweet potato, black beans and scallions, then sprinkle with spices to taste and toss with the lime-olive oil dressing.

5. Finish with a flourish of cilantro - because you're fancy.

Thai Veggie Quinoa Salad
This recipe originally found HERE. Yes there's a lot of chopping and yes it's worth it. 

Serves 2
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 bell pepper, diced
1/2 carrot, grated
1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 scallion, chopped
16 cilantro leaves (joking, I'm joking. 15 is fine)

2 limes, or 4 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp white sugar
3/4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tsp Asian fish sauce
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1. Cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth according to package directions.

2. While quinoa cooks, chop those veggies.

3. Whisk together the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce (if you like Asian food, please always have fish sauce on hand. It keeps forever) and red pepper flakes.

4. Mix quinoa and veggies together, toss with the vinaigrette.

5. Scarf!

A few more thoughts on the general topic of quinoa bowls:
  • Do yourself a favor and make a large batch of quinoa at the start of the week. Pick up some limes and/or lemons and one or two of the veggies listed above. Even if you don't pre-make multiple bowls, a healthy lunch will only be 5 minutes away. 
  • These proportions are all written for one or two salads, which is entirely too much work for one dang lunch. But I wanted you to be able to dip your toe in the waters of quinoa bowls without fear of ruining perfectly good ingredients on something you hate. If you find yourself similarly obsessed, scale these recipes up twice or even 3 to 4 times to make enough for the week.  Like I said, they'll keep perfectly. 
  • Your vegetarian friends will really appreciate you adding a hearty, healthy, meat-free dish like this to your arsenal.
  • Your carnivorous friends (ahem, or husband) will be appeased if you throw some grilled chicken and or shrimp on any of these. (Marinate in extra vinaigrette for bonus points.) 

As always, I love hearing if you make one of these and how it turns out!

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