Bagged Lunch Ideas: Golden Herbed Quinoa Salad

I've only been out of town for fewer 12 hours, and I've already learned that my husband apparently ate a bowl of garbage for dinner last night.


Whenever I leave town I like to pull a Barefoot Contessa and leave Eugene a few delicious things that he can enjoy while I'm away. This time around I left him a casserole of ricotta and herb-stuffed shells in spicy homemade tomato sauce, a large glass jug of cucumber spa water in the fridge, a grilled skirt steak, some roasted vegetables, and a gorgeous, golden herbed quinoa salad tossed with very finely grated aged gouda. I let him know via email what I'd made and how to heat things, and then off I went on my trip (I'm in Vermont right now on a weekend culinary retreat).

During the ride up last night I sent him an email to see how dinner went and to see what he thought of the quinoa salad. He replied that it was fine, but that the bottom was "all burnt and stuck" and so he was only able to eat from the top.

"Oh no!!!!" I replied as I realized what he'd done.

See, when I was making the quinoa on Wednesday, I got caught on a conference call and forgot to turn the stove off. The bottom ended up burning and sticking to the pot (a quinoa socarrat, if you will), but the top was light and fluffy so I simply scooped all that into a large bowl and prepared my salad, leaving the stuck bits in the pot to clean later. In my rush to finish packing and make my shuttle today, I didn't have time, so I simply poured in some hot tap water and let it sit so that it would soften, making it easier for Eugene to rinse off when he got home.

Unfortunately, I neglected to tell him this key bit of information and so when he got home he assumed the stuff in the pot was his dinner.*

"I thought it was too wet," he replied, once I'd explained what happened.

So that was terrible, but I'm still very excited about the recipe I'm sharing with you today (and which Eugene will, hopefully, finally get to taste this evening.)

This is one of those great make-ahead salads that's absolutely perfect for bagged lunches (and picnics!). The golden color comes from turmeric, which lends a very subtle flavor but is really there to brighten up the dish. A simple dressing of fresh lemon juice, good olive oil, fresh chives, and finely grated garlic (a brilliant trick that helps the powerful garlic to just melt into your dish) coats the fluffy grains of quinoa. To finish it off, I sprinkle on a generous shower of good, sharp, hard cheese (aged gouda is my favorite for this, but you can use what you have) and toss to evenly distribute.

This is good hot, but I honestly think it's even better cold. With the freshness of the herbs and the great sharp flavor from the cheese you end up with a totally satisfying bowl just perfect for lunch. A complete protein in its own right, quinoa is a healthy and affordable option for meatless meals and salads. Since it can be eaten both hot or cold, it travels really well and you don't have to worry about refrigeration.

Add a sliced cucumber, a handful of nuts, and a little something sweet to end the meal (I chose blueberries and almond cookies), and you have a perfectly balanced lunch that will keep you focused without making you so sleepy that you start contemplating a nap under your desk. (Admit it. you've totally thought about it.)

Even though I now work from home, I still find that it's smart to make good balanced lunches like this for myself in advance. Otherwise, I get so wrapped up in my work that I never stop to eat. Fortunately, a large bowl of this salad takes just about 20 mostly-inactive minutes to assemble and will keep well for at least a week. It really makes preparing a healthy lunch totally effortless. (Not to mention incredibly affordable!)

*I'm actually a little bit surprised--perhaps even offended--that Eugene took a look at that gross burnt and watery pot and assumed that was what I'd left him for dinner. I mean, doesn't he know me (and my cooking!) better than that? ;)

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Golden Herbed Quinoa Salad

Print this Recipe
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups quinoa
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup finely grated hard sharp cheese such as Asiago, Aged Gouda, Pecorino, Parmiggiano-Reggiano, etc.
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the quinoa. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken broth and quinoa over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook until all liquids are absorbed, about 12-15 minutes.

While the quinoa cooks, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, chives, grated garlic, oregano, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. Add the dressing to the cooked quinoa and toss to coat.  Stir in grated cheese. Season with Kosher salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

Can be served hot or cold.

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