Herbed Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

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Lunch has been on my mind lately, mainly because I haven’t been doing it right. I’ve recently hired a new employee in the bakery who is catching on quickly and brings real lunches for herself each day — taking a good, dedicated break to enjoy them. This amazes me. When I’m working in the Marge Granola kitchen, I’ll often forget to eat or have a handful of granola or a cup of yogurt at best; the day usually gets away from me and to take the time to sit and have a meal just means, ultimately, a longer work day. But when I come home I find myself drained of energy and not that productive or inspired to do much in the evening. So I’ve been trying to be more mindful of packing hearty snacks to eat throughout the day. Then a few weeks ago, after hearing good things from many friends, I ordered Peter Miller’s new book, Lunch at the Shop, and am starting to look at the midday meal in a whole new light.

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Peter Miller’s charming book, Lunch at the Shop is, in many ways, a manifesto to the midday meal that so many of us often neglect for lack of time or the very real hustle and bustle of the average workday. Miller owns a bookshop in the Pike Place Market here in Seattle and everyday he and his small staff make lunch for one another in their back staff room. They don’t have an oven or range, but they manage to pull together seasonal lunches regardless of the amount of work or level of stress any given day may bring. They’ve deemed it important — and that shines through in this book. Here, lunch is the center of the day: “It is the separation between the front of the day and the back, a narrow strip between stretches of work. Talking and sitting with others allow us to leave the pencil, or the laptop, or the phone and enjoy the break. We can get back to the work in a few minutes, revived…the job is not complex, and it is not clever. You are simply taking a part of the day back into your own hands, making it personal and a pleasure.”

In his introduction, Miller notes: “Some of cooking is using what you love. And some of cooking is using what you have left. Lunch is about both.” I think if we all focused a bit more on the latter — on using what we have left — a decent lunch might happen more often. Preparing ingredients in advance (washing greens, chopping herbs, slicing cheese, boiling eggs) or cooking a few things ahead (cooking up a pot of grains on Sunday) will ensure throwing something together in the morning — or midday– is more of a reality. With that in mind, the key to elevating lunch, I think, is having a few basics on hand and knowing that it doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Miller notes that the staff at the shop generally tries to stock up on olives, parsley and lemons, pickles and fruit and cheese to dress up meals. In our house, we also keep parsley around but also make sure we have eggs, tuna, tortillas and greens and usually a quick meal isn’t too far off. And of course supplementing with other store-bought, prepared things that you love is always a good idea — Miller describes the hummus at Mamnoon and how they like to keep that around for quick meals. We often buy a little smoked salmon at the Ballard farmers market and work around that for the week in scrambles, wraps and salads.

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Many of the lunches at the bookshop are simple open-faced sandwiches or a salad made with local greens, salty cheese and a boiled egg. They don’t require a cookbook or an internet search. There are lentils (a few different ways!), seasonal sandwiches, thoughtful salads and soups. The aim and goal isn’t about perfection or about whose meal is the tastiest — it’s simply about doing it, each day. After all, the more we all strive for lunchtime perfection (or perfection in any regard), I think the less we’re actually inclined to make the meal. And that’s part of my problem at work: Sam and I make great work-at-home lunches when I’m at the house, but if I’m out at the bakery I often feel like I just can’t be bothered and I’d rather wait until I’m back at home. But big vegetable-heavy salads like this one will help — they’re something that can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few days. Easily portable and much more nourishing than a handful of granola while standing and shipping Fedex boxes.

So yesterday I made this spring quinoa salad using the colorful vegetables we had on hand, leftover quinoa from a big pot I’d cooked up a few days ago and a bunch of fresh chives I picked up from my farmers market neighbors. I made a quick lemony dressing and crumbled in a bit of cheese. I think Peter Miller’s staff would approve — this is a simple lunch at its best. It won’t take you long to prepare, you can do so the night before, and yet it’s thoughtful and satisfying and will make you feel happier than if you grab a pre-made sandwich on your way into the office (or at least it would for me). I’m excited to share the recipe with you today because I think it’s one that you can make your own with ingredients you have on hand (see my suggestions in the headnote). It has a refreshing brightness from the lemon, and the handful of fresh herbs make it feel decidedly different from the winter fare (cabbage! kale!) we’ve been living on for what feels like forever.

Note: Inspired by Peter’s book, I’m going to make an effort to share some of the quick work-at-home lunches that Sam and I often make for one another. He makes an epic tuna salad that we both love that I’ll share with you in the next few weeks — in perfect time for sunny stoop lunches or outdoor picnics.

Herbed Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad
To make this salad your own,  feel free to use any cooked grain you’d like (a hearty grain like farro or wheat berries would be great as would a more delicate grain like millet). Then simply add 1 1/4 cups chopped fresh herbs of your choosing (mint, basil, chives, parsley, cilantro — anything goes) along with 3 cups of your favorite cooked spring vegetables. Cloak it all in this easy lemony dressing and you’ve got your own version of this simple lunch salad.

Serves: 6-8  (and makes great leftovers)

For the salad:
4 cups cooked quinoa (here is a great tutorial on cooking quinoa)
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed away
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped — plus more to top (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 ounces goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper

Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook for about 2 – 2 1/2 minutes, or until just barely tender (it will continue to cook just a bit out of the water). Drain and quickly to ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain again then towel dry and slice into 2-3 inch pieces.

To make the dressing, simply whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Add a few grinds of fresh pepper and set aside.

In a large salad bowl, combine cooked quinoa, asparagus, radishes, and herbs. Toss with dressing. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Fold in goat cheese and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days.

Comments

  1. Baby June

    What a great cookbook that sounds like! And this particular meal looks very delicious and healthy, so many flavors to love. I agree, it can be hard to prepare healthy meals sometimes but with a little creativity it's possible to eat well. :)

  2. Tania @ The Cook's Pyjamas

    Thank you for the heads up on the book. Lunch is something I am really bad at pulling together, even when I have suitable leftovers in the fridge. I am focussing my efforts this year on trying to do better, and have had some surprising (for me) successes but I am always on the lookout for other suggestions.

  3. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    I'll be the girl looking out for that epic tuna salad. Don't leave me hanging, okay? ;)

    Off to check out this Lunch at the shop book.

  4. Katie @ Whole Nourishment

    This looks so fresh and flavorful. And so easy to make and pack there's really no reason not to have lunch. And I agree, I think we have lost touch with the art of lunching, especially in America. Our working mentality encourages productivity all day but we end up being less efficient because, as you pointed out, we don't properly re-fuel and take a break halfway through. Thanks for the reminder of how important lunch and breaks are!!

  5. Francesca

    What an excellent note Miller has made. Ill have to remember that one.

    This looks great - I find that a proper lunch is such a nice way to break up the day ... and take a second for yourself.

    You deserve it.

  6. la domestique

    This is such a good reminder for those of us who tend to power through the workday without stopping for lunch. It makes me think that it's worthwhile to take a break and have a thoughtful bite-- whether it's a full meal or a nourishing snack. This week I read that the Japanese view meals as both physical and spiritual fuel, which goes right along with what you're talking about here.

  7. Florence @ This Redhead Says

    I always think of lunch as a little bit of time to break up the day, reflect on the morning and what is to come in the afternoon - a nice little moment of mental charge up. This salad looks lovely, especially with the touches of pink from the radishes!

  8. Donna

    Thanks for the recipe. I plan to try it over this long weekend. Looks delicious! As we try to eat healthfully, we find lunch to be a tricky meal. Like you, if I am working, I often work right through lunch. Then, of course, I am famished and make poor choices for dinner. Fortunately, my husband is like your new employee, and he always takes care of first things first, keeping his priorities in line, he stops work to eat and rest. I might just have to tell him that he is right!

  9. Anna - Sweet Peas

    This post really resonates with me. I figured out recently that having a wholesome lunch rather than toast or cake/coffee on the go makes me feel so much better by the end of the day. I try to cook up a big batch of grains over the weekend and roast whatever vegetables I have and then at the least I can toss them together with tahini dressing or a tin of tuna etc. Looking forward to hearing about your lunch ideas!

  10. Eileen

    Grain salads are the best! I love how full of fresh spring vegetables this one is. So perfect with a glass of white wine,

  11. kelli

    I couldn't agree more with the importance of "lunch" (quotes because with my work hours this happens at 10pm)
    I, too, have my own bakery and used to eat nibbles of this and that, plus all the tasting for seasoning and flavors.
    but to actually sit and eat
    now it is an every day occurrence
    and you know what?
    that half hour to sit and eat and rest and recharge actually shaves some time off the workday
    less mistakes
    no irritability
    no forgetfulness
    I truly is an important thing
    everyone, not just bakers, need to do
    every day

  12. Christina @ but i'm hungry

    All my favorite springtime things... asparagus, radishes, and fresh herbs! And of course a bit of goat cheese never hurts. ;) I'd eat this for lunch... or breakfast... or dinner.

  13. Kathryn

    I think this kind of quick but still healthy and delicious at the same time lunch is the meal that I struggle most with so I'm always looking for more inspiration. The bright + fresh flavours of this sound perfect.

  14. Hope Johnson

    Love the way you described Peter's book and lunches. Have you seen the tumblr 'Sad Desk Lunch"? It is photos of people's very sad lunches eaten at a desk. This recipe looks fantastic, but it is far to complicated in terms of ingredients- I don't have (and I'm not sure many people would but I could be making a generalisation) fresh mint and chives, or cilantro on hand (generally), nor do I have champagne vinegar- just normal rice vinegar. I'd make this salad if I were going to a picnic or some kind of function with other people and I wanted to impress them, but maybe too complicated for weekday lunch! As I said, could be wrong, don't want to seem rude, just giving you feedback.

    1. megang

      Hi, Hope! No I haven't seen the tumblr ... man, there are some troubling lunches on there. Thank you for sharing :)

  15. Jacqui

    I read this article in Bon Appetit, which inspired me to start making better lunches: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/lunch-al-desko. Even just making extra veggies when cooking dinner to set aside for the next day's lunch can make such a huge difference. I'll have to check out that book! Happy lunching, Megan.

    1. megang

      Hi, Jacqui! Thanks so much for sharing the link. Good stuff here. Yes, even 10 extra minutes, I think, makes a world of difference in the long run. Hope you're having a nice week!

  16. molly

    Oh, Megan! Yes yes YES!

    I adore Miller's book, which I ordered post haste, and have cooked from already so much, the spine's split. (The lentil soup is incredible. The lentils + avocado + feta, divine.)

    This salad is exactly what I want to eat, pretty much always. And I've yet to taste it. Give me until tomorrow at lunch. I have nearly everything, save an appetite. (It's post-dinner + dessert, in these parts.) This is a problem easily fixed.

    And yes to often doing lunch poorly. The motivation to cook for one's lonesome is, well, nil. I love the quiet small spot of reverence Miller shines on this meal. Amen for carrying it forth.

    xo,
    Molly

  17. molly

    Megan!

    The SALAD. Okay, so I added some chopped snap peas. And perhaps, a bit of extra mint. And alright, a few fistfuls of arugula. But OH, this SALAD!!!!!!

    Oh my gosh. Is it rude to comment twice? Probably. Apologies. But tonight's dinner was a dream. Thanks to you. And this. And hooray for new employees with high lunch standards, and architectural bookstore owners in Seattle with unorthodox lunch routines, and you. Definitely you.

    xoxo,
    Molly

    1. megang

      Molly, I LOVE it. I LOVE your comment. I do LOVE the salad and I'm so happy we're internet friends and hope we get to meet in real life one of these days. xoxo!! ~Megan

  18. Sara

    This cookbook sounds amazing, and your lunch looks great. Today I tore off a piece of baguette, slathered it with mayonnaise, and topped it with hard-boiled egg, dill, and maldon salt. It was nothing fancy but it felt so indulgent and perfect.

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