Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Bowl

To date, Chicken, Pesto, and Spinach Quinoa is by far my most popular recipe. So I wanted to do another little spin on that bowl, this time with a Mediterranean twist. And instead of making a pasta bowl or a rice bowl like in the aforementioned recipe, I swap in still-incredibly-tasty-but-much-healthier quinoa. This dish is high on protein and fiber with all the flavors of the Mediterranean, so skip the line and cost at your local lunch place and make it yourself. Plus, it makes great leftovers!

This one is a big hit!

What you’ll need:

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2  red pepper, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp oregano
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

**Don’t be afraid of the ingredients list. You should already have the quinoa, chicken, olive oil, and herbs in your kitchen staples, and the herbs can be either dry or chopped fresh. The red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard are almost always in my kitchen anyway because they last forever and you can use them in other recipes. So all you really need to pick up is the spinach, tomatoes, pepper, shallot, olives, and cheese – that’s less than half the ingredient list!

What you’ll need to do:

Start cooking the chicken so that it’ll be done by the time the rest of your ingredients are assembled. For instructions on how to cook the chicken, check out my post “Let’s Talk Chicken.”

Right after you start the chicken, get the quinoa on the stove. Combine the water and the quinoa in a small pot over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. For more detailed instructions and pictures, check out “Quick and Easy Quinoa.”

While the chicken and quinoa cook, chop all your veggies into similarly sized, smallish pieces. As you chop, throw them into a large salad bowl to get them out of the way.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something relaxing about chopping veggies. It helps me unwind at the end of the day.

In a separate container or bowl, mix together your red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Set aside.

When the chicken is done, cut it into small, bite-sized pieces and add to the large bowl. After the quinoa is done, add it to the large bowl with the veggies, chicken, feta cheese, and herbs (by this time, all your ingredients are in the bowl except the dressing). Lastly, toss all the ingredients with the vinegar, oil, and mustard dressing.

Enjoy!

Yum!

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Turkey Meatballs: Part 4 – Marinara Turkey Meatballs over Quinoa

We’ve finally made it to the last installment of my turkey meatball series. As you’ve read, most of my turkey meatball recipes are healthy spins on old favorites. First and foremost, the turkey meatball itself is a healthy spin on a traditional Italian meatball, using brown rice instead of bread crumbs and extra lean ground turkey instead of pork or veal. Then we had the turkey meatball lettuce wrap take the place of a traditional meatball sub, and the turkey meatball soup is a healthy version of a matzoh ball soup.

Part 4 is the  pièce de résistance in my healthy swaps. Instead of serving a traditional meatball over a pile of pasta, I’m serving the already-healthier version of meatballs over quinoa with a big scoop of marinara. It absolutely satisfies my craving for Italian food (which I crave often), while being much more figure friendly. I bring this to work for lunch all the time, and my coworkers always ask, “What smells so good?” The quinoa soaks up the garlicky marinara, and the herbs in the sauce bring out the oregano in the meatballs. It’s a perfect, delicious, guilt-free weekday meal that takes virtually no time to make.

Already packed in a Tupperware for lunch. Yum.

What you’ll need (makes 1 serving):
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup marinara sauce (whatever is in your cupboard)
4 turkey meatballs

What you’ll need to do:

This recipe is less about cooking, and more about assembling already cooked ingredients. I usually have quinoa already cooked and packed in Tupperware in my fridge, the turkey meatballs have already been cooked on the weekend, and I just use a store-bought jar of sauce.

If you don’t already have the quinoa cooked, simply follow my Quick and Easy Quinoa recipe. You need one part quinoa to two parts water. Like I mentioned, I usually make a big batch and store it in my fridge for up to a week. If you haven’t already made your quinoa, bring your quinoa and water up to a boil in a small saucepan. As soon as the water starts to bubble, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Assemble your dish by putting down 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa, top with the turkey meatballs, and slather with the marinara. If you’re bringing this to work for lunch, just reheat for 1 minute on high in the microwave. Delish!

Chicken, Pesto, and Spinach Quinoa

There’s this lunch place by my office that boasts really healthy, high protein lunches and it has this amazing chicken, pesto, and spinach quinoa. Whenever I go there for lunch, I always end up getting it even though there are other yummy looking items on the menu. I mean, chicken, pesto, and spinach? I’m in. And I love quinoa because of how versatile and healthy it is (see my latest post on quick and easy quinoa). So I really wanted to see if I could replicate this dish at home to satisfy the constant cravings I have for it.

This dish is so rich because of the pesto, creamy and nutty with melted Parmesan, with a little crunch from the quinoa. This dish tastes so naughty, but it’s so incredibly healthy! It’s really high in protein (about 35 grams) and really low in calories (about 371 per serving). And because it’s so high in protein, it’s really filling. I promise, my chicken, pesto, and spinach quinoa will fix any comfort food craving.

There's nothing better than curling up with a bowl of this chicken, pesto, and spinach quinoa and enjoying a movie on a colder Spring night.

What you’ll need (makes 4 servings):
1 cup quinoa
2 chicken breasts
3 big handfuls of fresh spinach (about 3 cups)
6 tablespoons pesto
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

What you’ll need to do:

First, get your quinoa cooking on the stove – all you do for this is make basic “Quick and Easy Quinoa.” So, put your quinoa in a pot with 2 cups of water (remember, the ratio is 1 to 2, quinoa to water). Put uncovered over high heat on your stove and watch it until it boils. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to low and cover. Since you have about a cup of quinoa this time, it takes about 15 minutes to cook.

You'll know your quinoa is done when you see those little tendrils emerge.

While your quinoa is cooking, make sure your chicken breasts are defrosted and chopped into small bite-sized pieces. I chop it before I cook them because it more evenly cooks the chicken and it takes way less time. As soon as your chicken is chopped, throw it into a large pan sprayed with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Use a spatula to turn your chicken and make sure all sides are cooked – the chicken only takes a few minutes to cook. If your chicken is done before your quinoa, just set it over low heat to keep it warm.

When it's cut into those little bite-sized pieces, the chicken takes only a few minutes to cook.

After your quinoa is done, add your pesto and stir (any kind of store-bought pesto will do). Then, add your Parmesan cheese and stir – by adding the Parmesan to the warm quinoa it gets nice and ooey, gooey, and melted, and also acts as a binding agent in your dish. Lastly, tear your spinach into more bite-sized pieces as you throw it into the mixture (you could also probably use cooked, frozen spinach if you have it in your freezer). After these three ingredients are combined, add your chicken and stir.

Yum, yum, yum. I can barely avoid taste-testing this one as I cook!

That’s it! It’s a pretty easy, healthy dish that cures your craving for comfort food.

Quick and Easy Quinoa

Getting back to basics, quinoa is one of the best staples to have in your kitchen. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a super healthy, protein-packed, high-fiber grain that’s a perfect compliment to any weeknight meal (you’ve seen it pictured with my bacon, blue cheese, and spinach stuffed chicken). Added bonus: it’s gluten-free for those who have difficulty with other grains. Basically, it’s an even healthier alternative to rice because it has more protein, more fiber, and less carbs – and by healthier, I don’t mean less tasty.

This super-powered side dish is so healthy, so easy, and so awesome that it made my kitchen staples list.

The first time I had quinoa was a few years ago. My parents came home from Costco with this mystery grain. Odd, I thought, but I’m not picky so I tried it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. And that was before we even put anything in it (my mom had cooked it plain with just water like we’re used to dong with rice). After finding out how incredibly healthy this grain is, I’ve played with different ways of cooking it and come up with some pretty yummy ideas while keeping it super nutritious.

So, rather than a traditional recipe this time, I’m going to share some ideas. For the basic starter of any quinoa…

What you’ll need:

1 part quinoa
2 parts water

What you’ll need to do:

Put your water and quinoa together in a pot on the stove starting at room temperature. Set the heat over high, and watch until your water boils rapidly. As soon as your water boils, immediately turn the heat down to low and cover your pot. After about 10 minutes, you should see little tendrils spiraling away from your quinoa – that’s how you know it’s done (see the top picture for a close up). It’s as simple as that!

I make this one on the stove because I like to keep an eye on those tendrils. But it's so easy that you can do it right next to your grill pan when you're making some yummy chicken or fish.

Okay now for some fun ideas. Quinoa by itself is okay tasting, but it honestly doesn’t knock anything out of the park. To add some fun flavor without sacrificing nutrition, here are some ideas:

  1. Add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and lemon pepper! This adds a citrus flavor that brightens up your grain and pairs perfectly with fish or your healthy, yummy chicken piccata. Besides, these are in your kitchen staples anyway.
  2. Add a couple tablespoons of light balsamic vinaigrette. Seriously, it’s hard to guess that the balsamic vinaigrette is even in there, but it really elevates the flavor of an otherwise-slightly-boring side dish. This is what I paired with my bacon, blue cheese, and spinach stuffed chicken.
  3. Add a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. Again, it’s in your kitchen staples anyway, and it’s a great addition to pair with your mango chicken.

No matter what you put in it, quinoa is a perfect side dish when you’re looking for something super healthy and super easy. And if you shop at Costco, it’s pretty inexpensive (seriously, Costco is the best)! Better yet, quinoa is not only great as a side dish, but it’s also a fantastic high-protein addition to a salad. But more where that’s coming from another time 🙂

Pictured here with my bacon, blue cheese, and spinach stuffed chicken. Yum, yum, yum....

Enjoy!