Oh hey, hi! So you may have surmised a few things if you follow me on other social media: 1) the baby is here; 2) we’re all doing fine; 3) he’s the best.
Another thing you may know is that I went back to work about a month ago. After a beautiful summer together with Young Sir, we had established a routine that I loved and that kept me sane. Bottles, diapers, naps, baths all arranged, orderly, predictable. o the thought of layering work life back on top of that already felt a little daunting, even before thinking about how I’d maintain some dignity in the kitchen. But, just like adding a baby in the mix (NBD, right?), I knew that what I needed most was a food routine to keep us all moving and (decently) well-fed.
Cut to last week, reading Julia Moskin’s piece in NYT about crowd-pleasing dinner strategies. Though the baby is still miles from table food, he’s not far off from purees, and more importantly, I was in need of some encouragement to embrace a weekly meal routine that didn’t feel like selling out to the casserole gods. (Note that I’m not anti-casserole – I’m a Midwesterner, darn it – but I know how I get when I’m around them, and I’d like to keep the baby weight at bay.)
After some list-making and more reading, I identified that one of the things that would help us navigate the week successfully was a big grain-based salad. Mainly to fill our lunch containers, these are also great on designated “scrounge nights” when there are enough bits & bobs in the fridge for two people who want nothing more than to hang out with their baby, throw exactly two bowls in the dishwasher, have a few minutes of halfway meaningful grownup conversation, and go to bed.
My favorite grain for a salad is farro. Wholesome, satisfyingly chewy, with great flavor and texture that stand up well to substantial salad partners like nuts, dried fruit, crunchy vegetables, and bold cheeses. But sadly, I love it so much that I managed to OD on it in the waning days of summer with two straight weeks of a variation on this Serious Eats recipe for farro salad with gorgonzola and some summer vegetables. It was a surprisingly addictive combination.
My least favorite grain for a salad is quinoa, but only because I feel a little annoyed with quinoa for its ubiquity. It’s everywhere, a placeholder for all things virtuous and health-conscious. I’m a little over it.
BUT: one of the things that moves into razor-sharp clarity when you start paying for diapers, formula, wipes, baby clothes, and baby school is that your money is precious, and shouldn’t be wasted buying new grains when there is some perfectly good stuff in the pantry. Due to an overzealous trip to the bulk section no less than a year ago, we’d been sitting on at least a pound or two of quinoa and it was time to use it.
I decided to go a sort of Greek route for the salad. This way, I could add bits of leftover herby grilled chicken, the summer’s last cherry tomatoes, some soft, fruity Castelvetrano olives (my favorite), and the gorgeous sheep and goat milk feta I had recently found. Toss in a cucumber for more crunch, a punchy lemon vinaigrette, and a fistful of parsley, and we’re in business.
Greek Quinoa Salad
Note: I hear a lot that quinoa needs to be rinsed before using, or else some weird residue causes it to taste bitter. I am lazy and don’t like being told what to do, so I have often (read: always) skipped that step, to absolutely zero detriment to the dish. You can see and weigh in on that great debate on this Epicurious article, if you like. I’m Team No-Rinse!
- 2 cups dried quinoa – any color is fine (I happened to have the multicolor on hand)
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly packed
- 5-6 large fresh basil leaves
- juice and zest of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 medium shallot, finely minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and fresh black pepper
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled or sauteed with any seasoning you like (or any leftover cooked chicken you might already have)
- 1 English cucumber, skin left on
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 cup pitted olives – I used Castelvetrano, but this would be great with kalamatas too
- 8 oz Greek feta – try to find the imported stuff from Greece or France; it should be made from sheep or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk
Combine quinoa and 4 cups of water in a large pot over high heat. Cover until it comes to a boil, then let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, or until quinoa is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and cool down the quinoa. Let the cold water run until the quinoa is tepid or even cool to the touch. Doing this and draining the quinoa well will keep the other ingredients from wilting or getting too warm when mixed with the quinoa, and will prevent the salad from getting watered down. Let sit while you prep the other ingredients.
Pile the parsley, thyme, and basil together and roughly chop. Add to a large mixing bowl (you’re going to layer in the rest of the dressing ingredients, and then the other salad components into this same bowl). Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, vinegar, shallot, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste to the bowl. Whisk vigorously until the dressing looks relatively uniform – no major streaks of unincorporated olive oil, etc.
Chop the chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta all into small, half-bite-sized pieces. This size will allow you to get a little bit of everything in one bite. Toss into the mixing bowl as you go until everything is chopped. Gently mix everything in the bowl so that the dressing thoroughly covers everything. I like pre-dressing the chicken, vegetables, and cheese so they can start to absorb some flavor before adding the quinoa.
Once your quinoa is cool and well-drained, add it to the mixing bowl, and mix everything again.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge. This keeps well for about 4 days.