"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philipians 3:13b,14

Monday, March 7, 2011

Make Ahead Lunch- Quinoa Greek Salad (what the heck is QUINOA?!)

Ok, I don't like to go overboard, but this salad ROCKS! It really is DELICIOUS! And it's full of healthy, good-for-you ingredients!

I love to have stuff in the fridge for lunch. Especially lately. I have had a little problem called "I keep gaining a pound here and there", and I have had to watch my calorie intake more strictly. When I get hungry, I can easily plow through 800-900 calories before I even come up for air if I don't have a healthy choice ready to consume. I like to have something that is packaged in individual servings, and can be ready to eat in a few minutes.

So, for this week, I made a batch of Quinoa Greek Salad. Have you heard of quinoa? Here's some information from Livestrong.com:

1. The Gold of the Incas

Over 5,000 years ago, high in the Andes mountains, the Incas began to cultivate quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) as one of their staple crops, believing that it gave power and stamina to their warriors. Quinoa was also used in their ceremonial rituals. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America in the sixteenth century, they burned and destroyed the quinoa fields as part of the effort to annihilate Inca culture. But quinoa survived by growing wild in the mountains or by being cultivated in secret in small quantities. In the 1980s, two North Americans stumbled upon this ancient, super-nutritious food and began cultivating it near Boulder, Colorado. Since then, quinoa's popularity has exploded worldwide.

2. Getting to Know Quinoa

Although it is cooked and eaten like a grain, quinoa is technically a seed, and is related to spinach, chard and beets. It grows best in mountainous regions, 10 thousand feet or more above sea level, and thrives in poor soil, thin air and extreme weather. Quinoa stalks are 3 to 6 feet tall, and each plant can produce up to a cup of seeds! The seeds are round, about the same size of millet or sesame seeds, and come in a rainbow of colors, from red to purple to green to yellow, but the quinoa that is most commonly found in stores is an off-white color. Look for quinoa in the bulk section of natural food stores, or in the organic section of conventional supermarkets.

3. A Complete Protein and so Much More

Quinoa is a complete protein, which means that it contains all the amino acids necessary for our nutritional needs. Complete proteins are rare in the plant world, making quinoa an excellent food for vegetarians and vegans, or for anyone looking for healthy protein source. It's also high in iron and calcium, and is a good source of manganese, magnesium and copper, as well as fiber.

4. Cooking With Quinoa

Most commercially available quinoa has already been cleaned, but you should still give it a thorough rinsing before cooking to be sure to remove any remaining saponins, a soapy resin that protects the seeds while they are growing, but can impart a bitter taste if not removed. Combine one cup rinsed quinoa to two cups water or broth, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the seeds become translucent and the germ of the seed uncoils to form a little "tail." Quinoa has a light, slightly nutty taste and a fluffy texture. It makes a tasty porridge or casserole and can be added to soups and stews.

5. The Gluten-free Grain of Choice

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, making it an excellent food for celiac patients or other people following a gluten-free diet. Quinoa flour is great for baking cookies, breads and muffins, and quinoa flakes are a perfect substitute for oatmeal.

Wow!! So, obviously, it's a great choice for a salad, filling, and full of great health benefits!

So here's what you need:

  • 1 cup Quinoa (I got mine at Trader Joe's, it it usually sold in markets by the rice/grains)
  • Feta cheese
  • cherry or grape tomatoes
  • kalamata olives
  • lemons (Meyer lemons are AMAZING.... I am obsessed with them. My friend Ron usually keeps me stocked up- thanks Ron!) 
  • a can of water-packed artichoke hearts (I think it was 14oz, Wade took the trash out before I took a second look at the can!)
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

So, first measure out a cup of quinoa (and please don't spill it all over the counter like I did- it gets into the grout lines and then you have to get it all out.....) Then you want to put it in a sieve and rinse it really well. I rinsed mine for 2 or 3 minutes (or, however long it took Nicholas to tell me about the trick he was about to show me on the trampoline, then show me the trick)

Then put the quinoa into a medium saucepan, add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat so that it's simmering, and simmer for about 13 or 14 minutes.

While it's cooking, you can make the dressing and chop the other ingredients. To make the dressing, first juice lemons to get 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice. As I said before, I used Meyer lemons, and it took 3 smallish lemons to get the juice.

 Do you have a reamer? It's one of my favorite handy kitchen thingies. You can easily juice citrus without having to drag out the juicer. You are supposed to hand wash it, but I always throw it in the dishwasher, and 5 years later, it's still fine.

Then you want to pour in 1/2 cup olive oil:

Then add 3/4 tsp salt (sea salt is good), a few spins of freshly ground black pepper, and a few shakes of oregano (I would say if you want to measure because you get all freaked out about guessing, I used about 1/4 tsp each of the oregano and pepper) then give it all a quick whisk with a fork:

Now, get the other stuff ready. Now, I just made up this salad, so the other stuff isn't set in stone! Use what you have, what you like, what will make the salad yummy to you!! I used the can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered, a cup of grape tomatoes that I cut in half, and about 1/4 cup of sliced kalamata olives. Oh, and a cup of feta cheese. If I didn't have breath-conscious people here, I would have added some red onion .

Ok, so now your quinoa should be done cooking, dump it in a big bowl to cool a bit (just enough so it doesn't melt the feta cheese. Then put all your other ingredients in the bowl, and pour the dressing over it all.

Doesn't that look YUMMY????? And now I have it all ready to go in the fridge, so if you make some, you can just throw it in a lunch pail if you take packed lunch, or just grab it when you get hungry so that you don't eat half of the kids' lunch while they're not looking! I will probably eat  mine over a bed of spinach, so that I can get even more iron into my diet. Stupid anemia....... :)

So, I am starting week #2 of weight lifting today!! Last week I lifted weights 2 times, this week I am shooting for 3 times! I was SO SORE last week (mostly my legs) that I could hardly walk for a day or so. I was thinking, "what the HECK??!! I am IN SHAPE!! Why am I so stinking sore??" I was really excited that the second time I did the workout, I was less sore afterward. Hopefully this week will be even better. I was really excited because yesterday, after my long run, my hamstring and IT band were pain-free for the first time in a loooooooong time. The only thing I did differently was the weights, so I'm hoping that's what helped! I told Wade so many times that he was like, "ok, ok Shari, I get it. You're happy!!"  Ha ha.

Have a great Monday!!

Grilled Chicken
Brown Rice

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