March 26, 2012

Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad: Variations on a Theme

(PappaRazzi guest post)


I love Rachael Ray's Week in a Day where in one day she makes 5 dinners for the coming week. Great show concept, but nothing we family chefs haven't done for years, am I right? The kiss of death to culinary creativity is trying to pull it off 5 days a week after coming home exhausted from giving your 110% at work, and that rush hour commute.

I take Rachael's challenge one step further and make it 5 brown-bag lunches too! Take *that* Rachael! ...but wait, I go even one step further and make it all one dish. How could this not get boring? Or worse yet, fail in the nutrition department? I mean, most folks enjoy 21 meals in a week, and I am proposing I can make you happy when 10 of those meals are the same, *and* I can make it in just over an hour? "Yes, yes, yes!"

Stick with me and I'll tell you the secret(s) to 10, yes 10(!) meals in a day, heck in just over an hour. Taste? Nutrition? Excitement? Oh yeah, Rachael just got P0wned. Since it's all one dish, you can bring it to work in a single, small container. It could also be served as a side dish with any main course for Sunday Supper. When I share the title you may say, "Oh...", but, as usual, the Devil is in the details, and this dish is packed with several of my secret weapons ...gourmet elements that add a special surprise, bite after bite.

The nutrition part comes from the fact this dish simply contains a little bit of everything in your fridge and pantry. The fact you can tolerate eating it 10 times in a week, is actually in how you can modify the flavor profile across multiple batches. Batches? Yes, 10 meals for two is a lot of food! This is all about prep and construction and finally creative seasoning. My secret weapons are the choice of salad dressings and base ingredients, and the additional ingredients that make one salad into something new for each day.

Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad

1 Yellow bell pepper
1 Red bell pepper
1 Orange bell pepper
1 Red onion
1 Sweet Onion
1 English cucumber
1-3 Jalapeno Peppers
1-3 Serrano Peppers
3-5 stalks of celery
6-8 seeded plum tomatoes (not canned)
8 oz high-end hard salami (make sure it's gluten free)
1/2 - 1 cup sliced black olives (I used Kalamata)
2 cups cooked and chilled prepared Quinoa

"Variations" is the keyword here.  It's simple to change this any way you like, by adding or subtracting personal preferences.  Well, maybe not "add", as I put everything in here but the kitchen sink, but a good "subtract" might be the salami, which would make this base recipe vegetarian.  Other than quinoa, the ingredient list is simply diced vegetables and a salad dressing ...oh, but that is only what makes this easy.  Let's get right to what makes this so great.  This malleable salad can take on any cultural flair, and with the right last minute additions will tame any appetite.

Get that chopping knife sharp! Nothing is *more* dangerous than a dull knife. Wash your veggies super clean as you are eating them raw and they are going to be in your fridge for a week. Dice everything somewhat fine, like a salsa, so you can get several chunks/flavors in each spoonful. Not too small as the veggie crunch is what keeps this interesting (3/8"?) I dice hot peppers finer so as not to overheat. Serrano's can be very hot.

Once you are done with your base chopping, the end result is a HUGE bowl of diced veggies, and when all said and done, this is about 20+ servings of food. The challenge is to keep it all fresh just like the day you chopped it, over the week, and that secret is not to use any salt or salad dressing just yet. Take your base chopped mix and separate it into as many bowls as you see fit. I don't even blend in the quinoa at this point to retain it's just-cooked firmness and individual flavor.

Quinoa can be bland, so I give it that individualism by cooking it according to the package instructions using box chicken stock and Sicilian seasoning (like Italian seasoning with added red pepper flake). This brand seasoning I love, and it seems to have other dehydrated ingredients like the tiny diced carrots that show up in the final cooked quinoa.

After the simmering quinoa comes off the stove, I spread it on a baking sheet (on a sheet of foil!) and pop it in the freezer to quick cool ...of course leaving it to steam for a few minutes beforehand on your counter top might help to *not* totally defrost your freezer. After it's cooled (15 minutes in the freezer) you can just chunk off equal amounts partially frozen quinoa onto the top of each portioned out bowls of base veg. Don't mix! Seal them all up but one, and tuck away in the fridge for the coming week. Now the adventure begins! It's time travel the culinary globe as you totally change the flavor profile of each mini-batch by adding different additional ingredients and favorite salad dressings. That's my next secret weapon!

Living in Austin Texas is great! Not only are we the Live Music Capital of the world, but we have some of the most adventurous chefs and eateries. Central Texas is also home to some brilliant entrepreneurial specialty food products. One of my favorites is Harriet's Original All-Natural salad dressings. Her company delivers a superior product simply because they are so locally fresh, with flavors that might not survive in the chain-store warehouse.

Of course I buy mine off the shelf at the store, but many times Harriet is actually standing right there giving out samples! Here's a picture of 3 great flavors, what I call my Flavor Chemistry Set.

Allow me to explain. In my first bowl I decided to make a Greek salad. No problem. Add some salt and pepper, a generous splash of Harriet's *sparklingly* bright Red Wine Vinaigrette ...blend in the quinoa. Hmmm, needs a little more creaminess and body ...add a little Harriet's Chipotle Dip (spicy!), stir till it's all coated and as a final touch add some crumbled feta cheese. I added lots of jalapenos and serranos in my base, maybe too many for some folks, and with the Chipotle Dip dressing this has a wonderfully complex heat. Cooled just right with the creamy feta. OMG~ chunks of salami, sliced Kalamata olives, feta cheese and Harriet's Vinaigrette dancing over forkful after forkful of crispy diced veg and quinoa. No two bites are the same can definitely live off this stuff! Is there such a thing as Tex-Greek? The ability to add another ingredient or two, and simply change the salad dressing is the secret to never getting bored. Having a little bit of every food group keeps it nutritious, and more importantly satisfying. Don't like Greek? Go Italian. Instead add a can of garbanzo beans, cube up a firm smokey provolone to your base, and add a little more dried Italian Seasoning and your fav Italian dressing. See where this is going?

The choices are endless, so thanks for sharing any ideas in the Comments. My favorite ...not-so-dietey, was Blue Cheese dressing and crumbled bacon. I didn't have any crumbled blue cheese, but a sprinkle of that would be a no-brainer. One of my favorite Harriet's dressings is Zesty Cilantro! It's a buttermilk base with green jalapeno and mucho cilantro. Dice up some fresh cilantro and a fistful of raw diced spinach to add to your next batch with some Harriet's Zesty Cilantro dressing ...maybe a little extra lime juice, that's everybody's fav are welcome.
Following the basic rules guarantees your substitutions will more likely be successful. Not adding anything to the original diced veg means 5 days later it looks 1st day fresh. The addition of the carbs/protien of quinoa and the fat in salad dressing is critical in quelling your mealtime appetite and delivering on the promised nutrition. Keeping the quinoa separate from the mixed diced veg, until the final blend, means it keeps it individual flavor on your fork. Adding properly select beans and cheeses guarantees even a hungry bear won't complain about what you packed in his/her pic-i-nic basket. Never heard of Quinoa? Substitute chilled brown rice cooked in chicken or vegetable stock with your favorite spice blend (curry?).

With hot peppers, red onions, wine vinegars, and funky cheeses, these are strong adult flavor profiles! If you are trying to get your kids or finicky spouse to like this idea, leave out the jalapenos, serranos, and the red onion. Maybe something milder like a green/spring onion and just one jalapeno? You could even dice in a crisp apple or two. Maybe some cubed Cheddar cheese? Same idea with the salad dressing, simply use their favorite. Creamy dressings help hide the fact anything healthy is being pawned off on them. I have extended a final batch and made it more salad-like by just dicing in some romaine. You can try anything they might like, ...dried fruit, nuts, pasta? Hey ...thanks for sharing in the comments.

Worried about calories? Simply measure your salad dressing and go easy on calorie-dense additions like cheese, or substitute a low-fat cheese. Consider the cheese is going to get wet so make it a firmer cheese (provolone or string mozz?) Goat's milk Feta is perfect, and lower fat that cow's milk cheese, but feta doesn't hold up well when blended, so I just sprinkle it on top of the final single portions. Unless you are vegetarian I insist you add the hard salami. I used Columbus Pinot Noir with pink peppercorns, mouth magic. At 1/3 oz per portion, the flavor-to-bad-salami-stuff ratio wins out. The salami may also be one of the most expensive single components, but since you are only buying a 1/2 pound stick, the price difference between store-brand and Gourmet may only be $2. Splurge, and thank me later.

Made myself hungry, gotta go!



  1. Where can I find Harriet handing out samples? Please tell her to visit NYC.

    Thanks for the suggestions, as always, they are inspiring.

    Rock on!

  2. You always amaze me with all the wonderful combination of ingredients you feature here! Thumbs up to you for another delicious salad! Love all the peppers in it!

  3. I agree that the show is a great concept, but I kind of wish it was someone else - I'm kind of over the whole Rachel Ray thing... That salami looks delish though - wherever did you find it?

    1. Yeah, I tease, but as a man I can't say anything bad about Rachael, she has a certain appeal. The Columbus Salami above is a link you can click on, but it's just what is available in my local stores ...big-box and grocery alike. If you look carefully, that complete 8 oz stick didn't totally survive to make it in the salad delicious. I am also sure your local up-scale grocery has a few gourmet options in the hard salami dept. I heartily recommend a flavorful salami because all diced up, it's just enough to get a super flavorful chunk in every 2nd-3rd bite.

      If you are on a budget you could substitute Summer Sausage ...and next Christmas you could give everyone tube socks with the money you saved. See? Saving money is BaD! ;-) Oh, now I remember why Rach wouldn't be interested in in an old married guy like me ...I don't have any money.

  4. What a great dish! I love the flavor combination and the quinoa with fresh veggies sounds seriously YUMMY! I say you've given Rachel Ray a run for her money!

  5. This is a wonderful, colorful, flavorful dish that will make me full because I will eat a lot of it. :) Great post. :)

    1. Thanks!

      I was obvious to me this could be made into a curry-based vegetarian dish, I just don't have the experience to know what the proper substitutions should be. I have a lot of experience *eating* Indian food, but not experience cooking it. So while I know there are staple chopped Indian veggie salads, I also know they can be somewhat uncomplicated side dishes. Remember this is designed to be a one-dish meal. Maybe flavor the quinoa with toasted coriander and veggie stock, and make a nice red curry and Greek yogurt dressing? We'll leave this challenge in your capable hands ...for now ;-)

      Southern Asia has received recent bad press for the link between white rice consumption and Type II Diabetes. Quinoa is a great rice substitute with it's added protein and reduced carbs, but not really an Eastern recipe staple. What could substitute for the much-anticipated flavor of salami and the appetite satisfaction of cheese? You can also buy Red quinoa. I'm excited to think if you could answer those questions, you could break a few rules and set some new Health trends with a rice-free Curried Quinoa chopped veg one-dish meal like this! I'm excited, so let Grubarazzi know what comes out of your test Kitchen! [heh] ...before it comes out of the Grubarazzi Test Kitchen.


  6. That first picture is a stunner with those bright and colorful vegetables. The salad looks awesome, colorful and healthy and full of nutrients!

  7. I really do like the blend of ingredients here. Definitely packed with great nutritional value as well as taste. The dressing is what really is the game changer when it comes to the cuisine you want. This is a home run-thanks PappaRazzi!

  8. I'm actually still new to quinoas. I have tried at my friend's place and I liked it but haven't cooked it on my own yet. Your salad looks delicious! I think I'll enjoy quinoas in the salad. Definitely healthier option!

  9. It seems one kind of rainbow recipe.

  10. Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad. Sound is too perfect to eat.

  11. Your salad is beautifully colorful, nutritious and easy to make.
    Definitely going to try it out.


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