July 2, 2012

GQ Salad

To know me is to know that I love Trader Joe's.  

When I see its logo as I'm driving around the Bay Area, I smile fondly like I'm seeing a good friend.  Sure, I have some complaints here and there.  The fruit selection is limited, a lot of the produce is pre-packaged which creates more waste and makes it hard to check the freshness of what you are getting.  And sometimes favorite items suffer a premature induction to Trader Joe's product heaven.  

But as a parent of kids with food allergies, I can forgive the store for all of this.  I can because I have so much appreciation for the many safe and healthier choices Trader Joe's offers at a very reasonable price.  From sunflower seed butter to soy yogurt, gluten-free cereals to dairy-free chocolates, they have a great selection of allergy-friendly foods.  If I had to choose just one grocery store to shop at for the rest of my life, there is no question it would be one of the friendly, sticker-rich, sample-giving Trader Joe's in my area.  

One of my latest Trader Joe's discoveries is their Super Spinach Salad.  A mix of spinach, quinoa, tomatoes, dried cranberries,beans, and seeds, the salad is packed with vitamins, protein, and fiber.  The carrot miso ginger dressing is just right in tying the tastes and colors together.  It's great combination of salty and sweet, crunchy and chewy, and tart and tangy.  It truly is a super salad.

At $4 it's a great deal as a grab-and-go meal but I decided to recreate a bigger version of the salad for more bang for my buck.  This can be a great addition to your 4th of July barbecues this week!

The first time I made this I remembered incorrectly that the greens in the salad were kale leaves so I used that in place of the spinach.  Not a bad substitution, especially since kale is such a nutritional powerhouse.  Raw lacinato kale is a little harder to chew than I preferred, though.  I have tried lettuce, too, and it works well as an alternative to the spinach and kale.

Organic lacinato kale -- now at a Trader Joe's near you!

This is a really easy salad to make.  The most work comes from making the quinoa ahead of time.  You can cook it on a stove or simply pop it in a rice cooker if you have one.  (I did the latter, which made this extra easy for me!)

I don't have a high-powered processor or blender so my dressing came out a bit coarse and thick.  More like a "sauce" or gravy than a dressing.  If you have a Vitamix or similar blender, use it to attain a smooth texture.  The second time I made this dressing, to cut down on the fat I decided to forgo the extra tablespoons of vegetable oil and add a tablespoon of water instead.  (Long story short, I've got a dress to fit into next month and not much wiggle room to play with!)  Again, the texture was compromised a bit but the taste was still great.

I didn't measure any of the salad ingredients.  I made sure to have plenty of each ingredient on hand, added them into a bowl, and tossed and tweaked until I had a color combination I liked.  I really love the quinoa in this salad.  Like rice, it helps to capture all the competing flavors.  One time I made this salad at the last minute and didn't have quinoa.  It just wasn't the same! 

Kale in the GQ salad.

GQ (Greens and Quinoa) Salad
Adapted from Trader Joe's Super Spinach Salad

Spinach leaves, or kale or lettuce leaves with stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
Cooked quinoa (when cooking quinoa, you will need 2 parts of water for every 1 part of dry quinoa)
1 carrot, grated or julienned
Sugar plum tomatoes (whole or cut in half lengthwise)
Edamame, shelled
Garbanzo beans

Roasted pumpkin seeds (salted or unsalted)
Dried cranberries
Carrot miso ginger dressing (recipe to follow)
  1. Layer greens, quinoa, then carrots in a bowl.  Add tomatoes on top.  Generously sprinkle edamame, roasted pumpkin seeds, garbanzo beans, and dried cranberries on top.  Toss with carrot miso ginger dressing or serve it on the side.

Carrot Miso Ginger Dressing
Adapted from Fit and Fed Blog's dressing recipe

3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, cut into coin-sized chunks
1Tbsp white miso plus up to 1 more Tbsp miso to add to your taste
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp sesame oil
1 to 2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water plus 1/4 cup more to add to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients except for vegetable oil in a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.
  2. Blend in water a little at a time until your desired consistency is achieved.  It's good to have extra ingredients around to adjust to your taste.
GQ Salad with lettuce greens.  You can toss the dressing with your greens
prior to adding the other fixings to create a more uniform look.

Eat your GQ salad alone this summer for a hearty meal or offer it as a side dish at a barbecue near you!

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