Green Quinoa Salad with Lemon and Pistachios
Tiny buds giving life to dormant trees, birds calling to one another in the morning sun, green seedlings peeking through dark garden soil — spring reignites a love of freshness and serves as a reminder of the speed and scarcity of nature. More so than any other season it draws me into the kitchen inspired anew.
Combinations are as many as the market’s delicate green and white and pink offerings, and I dream of a day when we can find (or grow our own!) spring artichokes, fava beans, ramps, fiddleheads, morels, rhubarb. For the time being, though, I’m happy to celebrate the lovely produce we do have.
Asparagus, zucchini, and garden-picked mint and chives are the focus, with pistachio pieces adding crunch and yet more green. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest add brightness, and quinoa is the perfect ingredient to transform this spring salad into a light but hearty meal.
What’s in it for me?
Often considered a grain, quinoa is actually a seed, making it naturally gluten-free. One of the few plant sources of complete protein (8 g per cup, cooked), it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, as well as plenty of fiber, magnesium, and free radical-fighting antioxidants. Quinoa also contains omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated oleic acid, both of which are very heart healthy.
Zucchini and pistachios both deliver lutein and zeaxanthin for antioxidant protection of your eyes from age-related damage and degeneration. Pistachios are also good sources of unsaturated fatty acids, fiber and phytosterols for a potential LDL cholesterol-lowering effect, and a one-ounce serving (about 49 nuts) provides 6 g protein.
Asparagus is packed with vitamins K, A and C, calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and an impressive number of antioxidants. Particularly rich in B vitamins, especially folic acid, asparagus helps regulate blood sugar and homocysteine, and is a smart addition to fertility and pregnancy diets.
Like other herbs, the vitamins, minerals, and volatile oils in mint and chives offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to promote better health. In addition, the aromatic compound menthol in mint helps relax smooth muscle, which can calm an upset stomach, and may relieve some symptoms of IBS, like gas and bloating.
A quick and healthy weekday lunch or supper, or a side to share with friends and family at a get-together, this bright and lively skillet salad brings colorful produce to the forefront. Cook up a pot of quinoa, then let the season’s best inspire what veg, herbs and other ingredients you use. Perhaps spicy radishes and sweet peas with chevre; squash blossoms and basil with pine nuts; earthy sage and winter squash with feta and olives; or cherry tomatoes, cucumber, scallions and buttery toasted sunflower seeds.
As for the asparagus in this recipe — snap up what you can find ASAP, because it might be gone next week!
Tell me… What is your favorite spring veg?
- 2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
- 20 to 24 thin asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch segments (about 1 cup)
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely minced chives, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
- Zest and juice (about 3 tablespoons) of 1 large lemon
- Add quinoa, water and a pinch of salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add zucchini and asparagus; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 to 60 seconds. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat. Stir in the quinoa, mint, chives, pistachios, lemon juice and zest. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Transfer the quinoa to a serving platter or portion out among 4 plates. Sprinkle with reserved pistachios, mint and chives. If desired, drizzle lightly with a bit of good extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
+ Substitute quinoa with other GF grains like brown, wild or black rice, buckwheat or millet; or non-GF grains like bulgur, barley, couscous, farro or wheat berries.
+ Instead of chives use 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots.
+ Vary the vinaigrette and try avocado or flax oil, tamari or fish sauce, rice vinegar or aged balsamic, etc.
+ Bump up the flavors with fresh grated ginger, turmeric, dried or fresh chillies (or chilli paste), and any and all herbs that look good!
+ If you want more protein, add a poached egg, shredded or sliced cooked chicken or turkey, sauteed cubes of tofu or tempeh, beans or lentils, or a few crumbles or grates of your favorite cheese.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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