Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms

I'm getting back to basics lately. At least for the time being, my culinary ambitions are taking a back seat to my professional and personal ones, so the meals I'm making are a little less Top Chef and a little more Better Homes and Gardens. I last shared a main course green salad, created using one of most-used recipe templates, and now it's time for a basic grain salad, another indispensable arrow in my culinary quiver.

The basic template for this recipe isn't all that far off from my main course green salad version. Greens + onion + veggie + fresh or dried fruit + nuts + cheese is still a great combination, but here they either mix with or rest atop a bed of whole grains, instead of being an accompanied by a roll or slice of crusty bread. The chewy, nutty quinoa is an especially good grain to play off the rich elements of funky blue cheese, crunchy almonds, and tart cranberries, with the fresh spinach and scallions mingled throughout keeping it light. The tender, tangy mushrooms add another distinct flavor and texture, but if fungi aren't your thing, roasted chickpeas or grilled chicken breast are nice substitutions (or additions).

Grain salads are often delicious cold, room temperature, or warm, so what is a hot dinner warm night can be a delicious lunch the following day, whether or not you have access to a refrigerator or microwave.

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms
adapted from Whole Foods
serves 4 (as a main) to 6 (as a side)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pound cremini or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa
4 cups (about 4 ounces) tightly packed fresh spinach or arugula, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Whisk vinegar and Dijon mustard together in a large bowl. Add sliced mushrooms to bowl and toss to coat with the vinegar mixture. Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

3. While mushrooms roast, prepare quinoa according to package directions. When quinoa is ready, remove from heat, add spinach and scallions and toss to wilt vegetables slightly.

4. Add mushrooms, almonds, cranberries, and blue cheese to quinoa mixture and stir to mix well. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.

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