MORE BROWN BAG LUNCHES: Curry Chicken Wraps; Cous Cous with Pears and Blue Cheese; Creamy Gazpacho; Crunchy Spicy Hummus Wraps; Slow-Cooker Tomato Basil Soup; Roasted Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata and Pistachios;
I’m a devotee of the brown bag lunch, and eventually this post is going to wind around and tell you about a new favorite meal I’ve been packing. But, on the days when I find myself walking the streets of Manhattan at noontime without lunch in my bag, you will find me playing Draw Something on my iPhone while snaking through the line at a joint like Just Salad. I justify spending time and $12 on an awesome salad by explaining that ingesting my entire fruit and vegetable quota in one meal permits me to have a low-cost pantry dinner at home that night.
The gist at Just Salad is that it’s all about choice. You pick a salad bowl or wrap; mesclun, kale, spinach, arugula, or romaine; and toppings galore.There are plenty of pre-designed salads that I’m sure are wonderful. But obviously, as a cook, I can’t resist creating my own combination.
This is where most of my fellow line-standers go wrong. They either freeze up, slowing traffic and embarrassing themselves in front of all of Midtown and the super-efficient salad choppers. Or they overload their poor greens, lumping in pesto chicken with fried chicken or tortilla strips with croutons. Too much! Both fates can be overcome by focusing on a single, salad-changing strategy: choose your favorite add-ins and choose only your favorite add-ins.
My favorite add ins are roasted tomatoes, avocado, chickpeas, and walnuts. (I usually throw in carrots and broccoli for good measure, and sometimes I get tofu instead of chickpeas.) If you’re curious, I opt for balsamic vinegar and often choose a wrap over a bowl.
Those add-ins all find a home in this tossed quinoa meal I made bowlfuls of the other night and ate for days and days. Pesto douses the grain and vegetables, and both cubed mozzarella and chunks of avocado lend some needed richness to the dish. I stand by the combination – I’ve been ordering virtually the same set of toppings on my salad since about 2004 – but I’m curious what would go in your Favorite Salad or Favorite Quinoa Bowl if you weren’t in the mood to make the one I’ve designed.
From my kitchen, where avocado and roasted tomatoes meet, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes, Avocado, and Pesto
For the quinoa and vegetables
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 cups dry quinoa
1 avocado, cut into chunks
1/3 to 1/2 cup diced mozzarella (about 3-4 ounces)
3/4 cup chickpeas, more if desired
For the pesto vinaigrette
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4-6 tablespoons olive or canola oil or a mixture of the two
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Make sure the tomatoes are completely dry, then drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat them all. Bake the tomatoes for about 35 minutes, flipping once, until they are brown and poufy. They will deflate when you take them out of the oven. Sprinkle with salt.
Make the quinoa: Combine the quinoa with 4 cups of water in a small, lidded saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, give it a stir, put on the lid, and turn the heat down as low as possible. Cook for 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat but leave the lid on for 5 more minutes. Then, spread the quinoa out onto a baking sheet to let it come to room temperature and dry out a bit so it doesn’t stick together when you make the salad.
Make the pesto vinaigrette by placing the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Pulse until minced, then add the walnuts and pulse again until they’re finely chopped. Throw in the basil and cayenne and process until smooth. Next, add the mustard and vinegar or lemon juice and pulse to make a paste. Add the oil a tablespoon at a time, processing in between, until the dressing is lightened and smooth. Taste as you go–if you like the dressing tangier, use the lesser amount of oil; if you like it a bit creamier, go for all 6 tablespoons. Taste for salt and add more if you like.
In a large mixing bowl, gently mix the quinoa with the tomatoes, avocado, mozzarella, and chickpeas. Spoon in the dressing and toss to distribute it evenly. Eat immediately, at room temperature, or cold.