Nine times out of ten, my lunches consist of a vegetable and/or grain salad topped with protein. I know that may sound boring, but trust me when I say it’s delicious and full of variety. It’s a fantastic way to eat more plants and whole grains that are great for both body and mind! For the past few months, I have been roasting a lot of vegetables for my salads such as cauliflower, sweet potatoes and beets but now that spring has finally arrived in Chicago, it’s time to change up the menu to reflect the change of seasons.
For a fresh and bright springy version of this grain salad, my goal was to add as many green, spring-inspired veggies and herbs as possible. After walking around the produce department of my grocery store, I came away with asparagus, snow peas, peas (frozen), fresh dill and parsley. I also picked up some quinoa, a few lemons to use as the dressing, a piece of feta cheese to add some sharpness and almonds for crunch.
The first step in assembling this salad is to cook the quinoa. Quinoa is in my top three favorite grains (it’s technically considered a seed) for many reasons. This South American seed is a complete protein meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also easy to cook, is gluten free and incredibly versatile. You can fold cooked quinoa into muffin batter, add it to corn or zucchini fritters, use it to stuff peppers or squash, use it to make veggie burgers or as a base for a grain bowl paired with any and all toppings of your choice.
Quinoa seeds come in white, red and black with white being the most common. I find white and red quinoa to be the fluffiest variety when cooked, while black tends to retain a toothy texture. Because I had white and black quinoa in my pantry, I decided to use half and half.
To cook quinoa, measure 2 cups of water in a saucepan, add 1 cup of the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 additional minutes. Fluff with a fork and use as you like.
To cook the asparagus and snow peas, I could have sautéed or blanched them, but now that the weather is warming up, I was craving that charred/grilled flavor. I wasn’t quite ready to light my charcoal grill for a few veggies, so I fired up my indoor Le Creuset grill pan, tossed the veggies with some olive oil and my new go-to seasoning, Badia Sazón Completa. You know what makes this seasoning so good? It’s the MSG in the mix. It brings out the savoriness of the food and makes the flavors pop.
I grilled the veggies until they were bright green, crisp and tender. Because my asparagus was so skinny, it only took about 3 minutes per side. And, I had never grilled snow peas before but they were delicious with that bit of char. Once the veggies had cooled, I cut them into bite-size pieces and added them to the bowl with the fluffed quinoa.
The last set of ingredients that get folded into the salad are the defrosted peas, lots of parsley and dill leaves, or any other herb of your choice, crumbled feta, or any other cheese of your liking, and toasted almonds, or any other toasted nut you like.
I dressed the salad with freshly squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper to taste.
Keep in mind that this grain salad recipe is a great template for any vegetables, grains or flavors you like. Add thinly sliced radishes, scallions or celery, shaved fennel, artichokes or a chiffonade of spinach. Switch up the grain and use brown rice, farro or couscous. Use any acid you like to dress the salad such as apple cider or red wine vinegar. Use any nuts or cheeses you wish. I think you get the point!
Spring Green Quinoa Salad
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 6-8 servings as a side
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
2 cups water
1 cup red or white quinoa, or a combination
Pinch of salt
1/2 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed
2 cups snow peas, tough ends and strings removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Your favorite seasoning blend, or salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup dill fronds
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
Lemon juice to taste
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a saucepan, measure together the water and quinoa and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes.
- Using a fork, fluff the quinoa and transfer to a serving bowl.
- Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.
- Toss the asparagus and snow peas with olive oil, and season with the seasoning of your choice.
- Grill the vegetables on the first side until lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and repeat. Continue to cook until the vegetable are crisp yet tender, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool, cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces and transfer to the bowl with the quinoa.
- Add the defrosted peas, parsley, dill, feta and almonds.
- Dress the salad with lemon juice and olive oil to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Toss well and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Serve room temperature or chilled.
The salad is so excellent as is, but to make it a meal, I topped mine with grilled shrimp skewers while the rest of my family had shrimp burgers. It would also be fabulous with a piece of cooked fish, pork tenderloin or chicken breast. I actually just ate the leftovers for lunch with some shredded rotisserie chicken, which was fabulous!
Embrace the arrival of spring and sign up for one of our May classes, or if you have the grilling bug like me, take our Grilling Boot Camp for an all-day grilling extravaganza to get you ready for summer.