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Working Girl’s (or Guy’s) Lunch: The Mighty Grain Salad

June 23, 2009

quinoa 1

As a busy, working person, healthy lunches present a serious challenge.  Sure, dinner and breakfast are hard, too – but at least I have the contents of my refrigerator and pantry at my disposal when it comes time to eat them.

Lunch, however, is a different story altogether. Whether I’m eating at the office, on the run, or who knows where, it’s tough to find a good lunch option that is hearty without being heavy, or tasty without emptying out my wallet. Most working people, I find, seem to have a similar problem: it’s always another soggy salad, a sad-looking sandwich, or some mish-mash of whatever was left in the vending machine.

The irony of it all is that lunch really doesn’t have to be such a struggle. Healthy, hearty, and tasty: believe me, it’s not actually that hard to accomplish, even on the Monday-est of Mondays. Sure, it takes some planning ahead, and even a bit of kitchen time, but it’s well worth it if it means a good lunch. Once you get into the routine of packing a brown bag (or, preferably, something reusable) all of your office-mates will be jealous.

My trick for good lunches is to make a big batch of something, and then have it for the whole week. In the winter it’s often a big stew, full of beans and vegetables. In the spring and summer, though, nothing makes a good lunch like a grain salad.

Notice that it’s a grain, not a green salad. Green salads are well and good, but they don’t make the kind of lunch that will keep you going until 5pm. Grain salads are a bit more substantial, a bit heartier, and have just the right amount of whole-grain goodness to brighten up your workday.

My grain salads have a few key elements: whole grains, of course (refined grains don’t have nearly the staying power of whole), vegetables, a legume, and plenty of different flavors to keep things interesting. I also tend to add some type of seed or nut for flavor, crunch, and nutrition. The salad featured here is a quinoa salad, which I’ve paired with a variety of complementary tastes: sweet potato, scallion, peas, black beans, pepitas, cumin, and lime juice.

pepitas1

But really, you could take your grain salad in any direction that suits your fancy. If you’re craving an Asian twist, try brown rice with toasted nori, sesame seeds, edamame, carrot, and soy sauce. Italian? How about farro with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, chickpeas, and crumbled goat cheese? The possibilities are endless, not to mention delicious.

Oh, and did I mention that these all-purpose grain salads are great for other meals, too? Try taking one to your next barbecue to replace that stodgy potato salad, or serve alongside some grilled fish or chicken to add a colorful pop to your plate. Whatever the occasion, and whatever the flavors, a grain salad is sure to hit the spot. Enjoy!

New World Quinoa Salad
*Serves 4-6, or makes 3-4 workday lunches*

  • 1 c. quinoa (or 2-3 c. leftover cooked quinoa)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • ¾ c. frozen peas, defrosted
  • ½ can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ c. toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 3 scallions, minced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Spices to taste: cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, oregano, smoked paprika

Directions

In a small saucepan, prepare quinoa according to package directions or your favorite method. For extra flavor, season cooking water with a bit of cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, and paprika. Meanwhile, steam or boil the cubed sweet potato in salted water just until tender, about 6-8 minutes. If you purchased raw pepitas, toast them in a small skillet just until they start to pop. Once quinoa is fully cooked, allow to cool completely in the refrigerator (if you mix it while hot, it will get clumpy). Once cool, add quinoa to a medium mixing bowl or large food-storage container. Add sweet potato, peas, beans, pepitas, and scallions. Stir to combine. Drizzle with lime juice and olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and spices to taste. Cover, store in the refrigerator, and enjoy for the rest of the week.

– Mia (first Oldways Table Guest-Blogger and All-Around Awesome Lady)

Check out more from Mia on her blog, Red Ramekin

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