For someone who enjoys cooking so much, I am pretty bad at lunches. I don’t really like the distraction of getting up from whatever it is that I’m currently doing (sometimes that is cleaning but more often it’s the internet and cat videos). I’m also not much a fan of leftovers. I don’t really like eating cold food from the fridge either, but this quinoa salad has gone a long way towards changing that.
Like most people, I fade in and out of trying to eat healthier. Some of it is the temptation but most of it I suspect, is lack of inspiration. I’ve never really been much of a salad person, so it’s been difficult to get out of the green leafy vegetable, tomato and cucumber with olive oil and balsamic dressing rut. And then I discovered quinoa. Fast forward a half dozen quinoa salad recipe trials and this one stuck with me.
In an age of pre-packaged convenience, I was surprised by how much more difficult it is to shop at a market. I love markets, but supermarkets offer ready mixed salad leaves and trimmed cuts of meat. These days, I buy whatever lettuce I can get my hands on, and I’m lucky if I can eat it all before it goes off. For some reasons things spoil a lot quicker here in Sri Lanka, perhaps it is the heat.
This may surprise you, but as we head towards the end of the year, you dear reader, are going to get more healthy recipes for me. We’re heading back to Australia after a year and ten months of being away and I know I’m going to eat absolutely everything that is put in front of me, and not necessarily in reasonable quantities. Nectarines, cherries and blueberries but also salted caramel eclairs from Chez Dre, at least five flavours of ice cream at Messina and absolutely any soft cheese I can get my hands on.
So until then, eat healthy things like quinoa with me. Quinoa, which admittedly I have never ever cooked before is actually one of those things in the dubious category of superfoods that actually taste good. Ok, so it’s not great by itself, but it adds interest to salads, takes about 15 minutes to cook and keeps well after it’s cooked. It’s also pretty great in tabbouleh if you can’t get your hands on burghul.
I still don’t like to spend a lot of time on lunch so I usually roast a large butternut squash on a Sunday evening, then store it until I’m going to use it i the week. While the quinoa cooks, I dice up the vegetables for the salad and it’s all ready to go in under half an hour. This holds up well if you’re cooking up a week’s worth of lunches too – just store the dressing separately so the salad doesn’t get soggy.
If you’re vegetarian or just looking for a salad to accompany a barbecue, just leave out the chicken. Grilled haloumi or firm tofu seasoned with a bit of kecap manis would be a great substitute.
- medium, approx 1.5kg butternut squash
- ⅓ cup (80g) tri-colour quinoa
- 2 chicken breasts
- ¼ packet fajita seasoning
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- ½ avocado, diced
- 1 small cucumber
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- wedges of lime, to serve
- ½ tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- juice of ½ lime (or lemon)
- Preheat oven to 200C. Peel, trim and dice the butternut squash into 1 inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper and cook on a greased baking tray for 30 minutes or until slightly browned.
- Rinse the quinoa under cold running water. Place quinoa and 400ml water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes until tender or until you can see the edges just start to unravel. Drain the excess water using a colander or sieve.
- While the quinoa is cooking, season the chicken breasts in some fajita seasoning, then cook in a hot pan. I often sear the chicken breasts on the stove, then pop the frying pan into the oven to finish cooking for about 10 minutes.
- Mix the ingredients for the dressing.
- Combine the cut shallot, tomatoes, avocado and cucumber, fresh parsley and mint in a mixing bowl. Add the roasted butternut and quinoa and mix to combine. Season to taste with a bit of salt and pepper. Dress the salad and serve with grilled chicken on top, or stirred through.