For the past few years I’ve headed north one evening a week to do volunteer work as an adult basic education tutor. I used to just bring a snack to tide me over in between when I left work and the tutoring programmed started, but I got to a point where I decided that buying something for a quick early dinner was far preferable to spending the entire session thinking, “When can I eat? When can I eat? When can I eat?” That’s not good tutoring.
The other week I popped into Protein Bar to try one of their quinoa bowls. That evening I was happily pleased by the Spinach and Pesto Bowl – a mix of quinoa, spinach, chicken, pesto, and parmesan cheese. While I sat eating the bowl, passing the time until I needed to board the el, I got all mad scientist and thought, I bet I could make this. Ooh, and it would be really good with some broccoli added in. I could swap the chicken for salmon, too, that would be tasty. I made up the recipe in my head that night and set about putting my experiment to the test the following weekend.
I’m pleased to report back with favorable (flavorable?) results. The pesto is bright and garlicky and permeates the broccoli, white beans, and quinoa. The roasted salmon marries perfectly with all of these flavors. Say what you want about quinoa being a trendy food, I happen to love it. It’s quick to cook and it has very little taste, which means that it absorbs the flavor of whatever you mix it with, making it a great starch to round out a meal.
Now, this recipe is actually several recipes put together, but none of the separate recipes really takes that much time to complete. If you do want to save on time, however, there are a number of steps you can take. You could buy pre-made pesto. You could use canned salmon or tuna or rotisserie chicken. You could use frozen broccoli or those boxes of parcooked quinoa that only take five minutes to reconstitute. It took me about 45 minutes to complete this, but I bet you could easily get it down to 20.
The other great thing about this recipe is that it could be highly customizable. Don’t like salmon? Use chicken instead or omit the meat completely for a vegetarian option. Aren’t a fan of quinoa? Use brown rice or couscous or orzo. Hate broccoli? Use green beans or peas or asparagus. I threw the cannellini beans in at the last minute because I happened to have them and thought they would taste good. (They did.) Even the pesto could be swapped for a basic oil and vinegar mix if you so desired. As far as I’m concerned, recipes are guidelines always ripe for reinterpretation and this one is no exception.
This recipe makes a lot. I didn’t quite realize that as I set about concocting it, but it’s a good thing that a) it was so danged good, and b) I have no problem eating the same leftovers for several days in a row. I like knowing I have really good lunches waiting for me. That said, feel free to halve the recipe for a more modest amount.
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves (I used one of those packets you find at the grocery store)
3 cups of loosely packed baby spinach
½ cup grated parmesan
⅓ cup walnuts, toasted
2 garlic cloves
½ cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon
½ pound salmon
1 head of broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized pieces and steamed until tender
1 can cannellini beans
1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups water
salt and black pepper
For the pesto:
Combine the basil, 1 cup of spinach, parmesan, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor. Grind until a rough paste is formed. Slowly drizzle in the ½ cup olive oil with the machine running (your food processor has some small holes in the lid just for this purpose) until the mixture loosens up to a texture similar to toothpaste. Use more or less olive oil and necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
For the salmon:
Preheat oven to 425°. Pour about a tablespoon of olive in a pan and heat in the oven for about 5 minutes. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and place flesh side down in the hot oil. It should sizzle when you lay it down. Roast for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, until it flakes easily with a fork. (If you’re like me, save the skin to eat. That’s like the salmon version of bacon.)
For the quinoa:
Rinse thoroughly and put into a dry saucepan. Heat on high until the water has evaporated away, then lightly toast the quinoa. This is should take about 5 minutes to do. Add 2 cups of water and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is all absorbed.
To finish the recipe, mix everything together, add the remaining 2 cups of spinach and let the warm quinoa wilt it just ever so slightly, taste and adjust the salt and pepper, top with a little more parm if desired, and ta da! Super Green Salmon Pesto Quinoa. Protein Bar ain’t got nothin’ on this.
Makes approximately 6 servings.