Shrimp & Quinoa Salad

One of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility to carry out personal tasks during my workday. It is not unusual, even during my job’s “busy” seasons, for me to be working on a loaf of sourdough bread or some other dinner prep amid online conference calls or in between answering emails. So when my friend, Ruthanne, texted a few weeks ago to ask if she could come to my house for an online job interview, I instantly answered, “of course!”  

Her own home was more than 45 minutes away, and she needed a quiet place to land where she could conduct her meeting without attracting suspicion from management at her current job. My place was an easy solution, being just a few minutes down the parkway, and (obviously) I also promised her a tasty lunch.

Ruthanne has a fit, healthy lifestyle that is usually along low-carb lines with an emphasis on clean, whole food ingredients, and I took that into consideration when I planned this simple lunch. It was mostly made in advance—I cooked up the quinoa and sauteed the onions and tomatoes before she arrived, then I set her up in the loft space in our home, where she connected to our wi-fi, took a few deep breaths, shook off her nerves and started her call.

The irony of the situation is that my friend was hoping to land a position with a company that exclusively employs remote workers, and that was their practice even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many companies to create a remote plan. Job interviews are stressful under the best of circumstances, but this one was a high-stakes situation. After 15 months of pandemic-forced remote work, her existing employer had mandated an immediate return to the office. Like so many other people, my friend had adjusted to working productively in the quiet environment of her own home, and despite her pleas to continue the arrangement for a few more weeks so that she could manage new family obligations, it was a no go. She needed this new job.

When she descended from the loft with a huge smile and an expression of relief, I popped the top on a bottle of blood orange seltzer for a quick workday-friendly mocktail. We had to celebrate what she said felt like a sure thing. With the pressure of the interview behind her, we had just enough time left for lunch. I did a super-quick sauté on the shrimp (using the pesto compound butter I already had in the fridge) and arranged this tasty plate.

So much to love about a lunch that is quick, easy, satisfying and good for you!

This was a light, clean bite with a good, healthy dose of protein. Quinoa is the only plant-based food that satisfies all nine of the amino acids our bodies need, yet it doesn’t feel heavy or too filling. Mixed salad greens in vinaigrette were a fresh backdrop to the quinoa and the gently sauteed tomatoes provided a juicy pop of acid against the sweetness of the shrimp. It was exactly what we needed, and my BFF was able to scoot back to work on time.

It’s exciting to see how quickly things can happen when you are courageous enough to put yourself out there. Ruthanne begins her new job today, and I’m so proud of her! 😀


Serves 2 for lunch

Ingredients

1 cup cooked red, white or mixed quinoa* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 sweet onion slices, chopped

Small handful organic baby tomatoes, halved

2 handfuls mixed baby greens

4 Tbsp. vinaigrette (I used the last bit of some Good Seasons dressing, but any vinaigrette would work)

6 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined*

2 Tbsp. pesto compound butter*

Lemon wedges for serving


*Notes

Cook the quinoa ahead to allow time for chilling it. If you have found quinoa to have a bitter taste, you may have missed the step of rinsing it before cooking. Give these instructions a quick review to see how I prepped the quinoa. I made a large batch and used up the rest in other dishes.


The shrimp I used for this dish were “16-20” size, which means a pound of the shrimp would include 16 to 20 individual shrimp. Each portion of this salad included about 4 ounces of shrimp.

This recipe makes use of the compound butter I shared in my previous post, or you could swap in regular butter or extra virgin olive oil, but add a little minced garlic and herbs to the pan when you cook the shrimp.


Instructions


  1. Place a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and heat until shimmering. Sauté onions and baby tomatoes just long enough to soften them. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette until lightly coated. Arrange the greens on the plate, reserving leftover dressing.
  3. Add the quinoa to the bowl with dressing and toss it around to absorb it. Mound the quinoa on top of the dressed greens, then scatter the onions and tomatoes over it.
  4. Heat the compound butter in the same skillet used for cooking the onions. When it is melted and the skillet is hot, lay the shrimp into the pan, taking note of the order you added them. After about one minute, turn each shrimp over, following the same order, to cook the second side.
  5. Arrange the shrimp on top of the salad. Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the top of the shrimp.


Colorful Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

This dish practically sings “Meatless Monday!” It has lots of color and interesting texture, it works either warm or cold, it’s easy to make from simple ingredients, and it’s vegan, low-calorie, high-fiber, gluten-free and flexible on spice. Somehow, it still manages to taste delicious.

Skip straight down to the picture if you’re ready for the recipe, but if you’re new to the idea of quinoa, allow me to make a proper introduction:

What the heck is quinoa?

Quinoa has been around for thousands of years, but it only surfaced into the mainstream American diet a decade or so ago. It is native to South America—Peru and Bolivia specifically, but is now being grown in the southern part of Colorado (in an area where I once lived) and a few other regions in Washington state and Idaho. It’s pronounced “KEEN-wah,” and its nutritional value is exceptional, offering high levels of protein, B vitamins, manganese and phosphorous. It’s often lumped into the “grain” category, but quinoa is technically related to spinach and amaranth. Although the leaves are also edible, the part we usually eat is the seed, which can range in color from pale straw to red to nearly black, depending on the cultivar. On the pale end, it’s mild and almost nutty. On the dark side, expect a deeper earthy flavor.

Why does quinoa taste bitter?

It shouldn’t. If the quinoa dishes you’ve tried had a bitter or soapy taste, it may not have been rinsed well enough before cooking. Nature takes care of itself, and this tiny seed grows with its own special coating designed to keep birds and insects away. Much of that coating is removed during processing before the quinoa gets to market, but you may want to give it another thorough rinse under running water for about 1 minute before cooking it. Use a mesh strainer, because the seeds are very small and will slip right through a typical colander.

How do you cook quinoa?

You can cook quinoa either from its raw, dried state or you can lightly toast it (after rinsing) in the pan first. A basic recipe is a little less than 2 cups water (or broth) to 1 cup quinoa. Combine in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes. When it’s done, the quinoa will have absorbed all the water and the edges of the seed will separate a bit. It kind of looks like the seeds have little tails. Properly cooked quinoa is fluffy, not soggy or mushy. This recipe will make almost 3 cups of cooked quinoa.

How do you use quinoa?

Quinoa is a very versatile ingredient, and its mild flavor makes it suitable for all kinds of application. Serve it warm as a breakfast cereal with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and fresh blueberries (talk about a power breakfast!), or season it with herbs and spices as a bed for fish, meat or vegetables. You can also toss it into a salad in place of other grains such as rice or barley, or add it to soup for texture and protein.

Now, about this recipe for Colorful Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad…

It’s colorful, has texture and flavor galore, and so satisfying. What’s not to like?

Ingredients

2 cups cooked quinoa (I used tri-color)

1 large sweet potato (mine was a little bigger than the can of beans)

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, black pepper and cumin

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1 cup frozen sweet corn*

2 Tbsp. chopped pickled jalapeno (optional)

Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro for serving

*My preferred corn for this would have been the fire roasted sweet corn from Trader Joe’s, but all we had in the freezer was this southwestern corn, and it worked great! Next time, I’ll probably add chopped red pepper to this recipe.

They will never convince me that it’s safe to steam food in a plastic bag.
I used about half this bag, from frozen, and the recipe turned out great.

Ingredients – the Dressing

Juice of one lime

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Pinch of sugar (I used coconut sugar)

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Kosher salt, black pepper, cumin and (optional) ground chipotle

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400° F. Peel sweet potato and cut into large, bite-size chunks. Toss on parchment lined baking sheet with a generous drizzle of olive oil, season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste, and roast about 20 minutes. Sweet potato chunks should be tender enough to pierce with a fork but not soft enough to smash. Set aside to cool.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add a swirl of olive oil. Sauté red onions about 5 minutes, or just until lightly softened. Add frozen corn, salt and pepper to taste, and cook just until corn is heated through.

In a large bowl, combine drained beans, cooked quinoa, roasted and cooled sweet potato, corn with onions, and chopped jalapeno.

Arranging the ingredients in the bowl this way helps me gauge how much of each is correct.

In a glass measuring cup, combine lime juice with Dijon, garlic and spices (use cumin and optional chipotle to your own taste), then whisk olive oil into the mixture until emulsified and slightly thickened. Taste the dressing and adjust as desired. Pour the dressing over the bowl ingredients, toss and serve.

We enjoyed this warm as a Meatless Monday entrée, but it would also be good as a side salad to chicken, burgers or fish, and the leftovers were just as delicious cold from the fridge.

Meatless Monday, easy and done!

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