Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes, Avocado, and Pesto

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MORE BROWN BAG LUNCHES: Curry Chicken Wraps; Cous Cous with Pears and Blue CheeseCreamy 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,



Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes, Avocado, and Pesto
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
A healthful grain salad just bursting with my favorite ingredients.
For the quinoa and vegetables:
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 cups dry quinoa
  • 1 avocado, cut into chunks
  • ⅓ to ½ cup diced mozzarella (about 3-4 ounces)
  • ¾ cup chickpeas, more if desired
For the pesto vinaigrette:
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1½ tablespoons rice wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive or canola oil or a mixture of the two
  1. 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.
  2. Make the quinoa: Combine the quinoa with 4 cups of water in a small, lidded saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ½ 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.
  3. Make the pesto vinaigrette by placing the garlic and ½ 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.
  4. 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.


Posted in: meatless monday
  • http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/ Maria

    I could eat this every day! 

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I kinda did…for a week!

  • Sam

    Love the strategy – and fortunately your favorite add-ins are the same as my favorite add-ins. Nice!

  • Amanda R

    Definitely the best strategy with only favorites! I always try to decide before I get in line what flavors I’m going for that day so I don’t get overwhelmed by the choices once I get to the counter. Lately, I’ve been going for a bowl with mixed greens, avocado, grape tomatoes, cucumber, sprouts, egg whites, and occasionally grilled chicken or chickpeas instead of the egg whites. On splurging days, I throw in some feta! And of course, non-fat balsamic vinaigrette on the side.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Sounds like a great salad! But what I like most about it is that it displays real salad vision. Nice. :)

  • Manu

    Absolutely fantastic, I love this salad. 

  • Anonymous

    This looks and sounds delicious! OSCOLA reference generator

  • http://twitter.com/RosaMatsas Rosa Matsas

    This looks amazing – fabulous dish. I’m going to try this tonight. My personal favorite is to add some roasted carrots & onions and sometimes roasted asparagus and goat cheese (or feta) to my quinoa.

  • Jessica

    This tasted fantastic!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Glad to hear it!

  • http://twitter.com/nella22 Marnely Rodriguez

    Totally making this! 

  • annie

    really tasty, but kind of turned into mush. next time i’ll add the avocado after mixing everything else and see if i can dry out the quinoa longer.

  • redgirl

    i make quinoa all the time in my rice cooker.  so very easy.  i wash it 5 times (yes…fill with water, vigorously stir, then pour into a fine-mesh strainer) and then put it in my zojirushi rice cooker ..fill water just to (but not a drop over) the brown rice line – set on brown rice setting and it’s perfect every time.  i even abandoned the dump onto sheet pan thing…one put in a bowl, it just falls apart nicely.  just made some pesto so will try this and love the idea of the roasted cherry tomatoes.  our go-to lately has been red and white quinoa (mixed) – cooled – with handfuls of herbs minced (my garden has mint, cilantro and basil) and halved cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced cukes and diced mango.  i use olive oil and lemon with a good dose of salt and pepper.  then i poach salmon and place it, cooled, on top.  great summer meal. 

  • CindyE

    I make a big bunch of quinoa & then mix in different things every day so it’s fresh. I love, love, love using it.

  • tom

    Perfect recipe. Also delicious and of course healthy. Good for a simple and delicious recipe.

  • Adam Milne

    Seems very healthy and nutritious recipe. I prefer salad in lunch time and this is the perfect meal for me as I follow strict plan. UK Essays

  • Teja123

    great salad i love this
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