Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

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I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products. “You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

mexican quinoa 1

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).

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Warm Quinoa Salad with Fresh Basil & Toasted Almonds- Plus 4 Shout Outs

When our family switched to a more plant-based diet I had to rethink mealtime. When I could no longer plan my dinners around a centerpiece of meat, I had to get creative and learn about other satisfying options and healthy sources of protein. Trust me this took some adjusting, many spectacular flops and more than a few bags of Yves “Veggie” Nuggets before I had a repertoire of family friendly selections.

Once the warmer weather hits, I like to have the ingredients on hand to whip up salads for dinner that are light and refreshing but also pack a punch nutritionally for my active family. This quinoa dish is yummy and loaded with healthy protein, fresh veggies, herbs and nuts and is perfect for a pre-soccer game meal. I served this alongside a crisp green salad and a sliced baguette and everyone seemed to enjoy it (including the toddler who I passed the quinoa off on as rice).

Try this one out on your family- even as a side dish to see how it goes over. I find by serving up different foods and making sure to appreciate my children for their openness to trying new things (before they’ve even put a taste in their mouths) seems to make them feel proud of themselves and increases the likelihood that they will at least eat of bite or two of my latest creation. But you may want to keep a bag of veggie nuggets in the freezer just in case!

Warm Quinoa Salad with Fresh Basil & Toasted Almonds

quinoa salad 1

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
2 large tomatoes, finely diced
3 mini cucumbers, finely diced
1 handful of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup raw almonds
1-2 tbsp. tamari
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Place almonds on cookie sheet and toast for 7-10 minutes, shaking a couple of times to prevent burning. Cool and then slice or chop using a sharp knife.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil. Rinse quinoa 2-3 times under cold running water and then add to the water. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minutes until water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place tomatoes, cucumbers and basil in a large bowl. Add quinoa and nuts and toss to combine. Toss with tamari, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.
Enjoy!

*BONUS– 4 Shout Outs

Don’t you just love good customer service?! I’ve had a few amazing experiences lately that I wanted to share:

1. My youngest somehow managed to crack my iPhone OtterBox. When I went to a local electronics store to buy a new one, the salesman informed me that these cases have a lifetime warranty and that if I contacted the company they would send me a new one for free. I wasn’t 100% convinced this would actually happen but sure enough after forwarding a picture of my broken case along with the serial number, I received a brand-spanking new Otterbox in the mail within 3 days. Awesome!

otter box

2. On my recent trip to NYC, I bought a fabulous new yoga top at lulu lemon that I was dying to wear to class. But when I went to put it on I realized that I had purchased the wrong size. Damn! I’d already thrown out the receipt but I thought I’d bring it back to a local lulu lemon to check about the possibility of trading it in. They were only too happy to accommodate and quickly did a return for my NY shirt and made sure I left with the right size. Woohoo!

lulu lemon

3. I was driving through a local Starbucks this week and noticed a new offering- “Zesty Black Bean and Quinoa Wrap”. At least in my area, this is the first vegan option on their food menu and I think that is totally amazing. Way to go Starbucks! Now if I could just get them using almond milk in their green tea lattes……

startbucks wrap

4. Our iPad takes a lot of abuse and inevitably the sticky fingers, being toted all over the place and the relentless hammering on the screen during game play results in problems with how the poor thing runs. Recently we couldn’t get it to work at all so I headed off to our local Apple store to see if it could be resuscitated. When I walked in (accompanied by my little guy in the stroller) I was disheartened to see that the store was absolutely packed with customers. Of course my son picked that instant to start freaking out and I felt the uncontrollable urge to burst into tears. However, within seconds a lovely customer service associate approached and asked if he could help me out. He said he was a dad himself and he saw the “I-might-lose-it-at-any-moment” look in my eyes. In less than 5 minutes he had our iPad cleaned up and running perfectly – and he didn’t charge me a cent! Incredible!

apple store

In each case, I went straight home and fired off an email to the respective head offices complimenting the company on exemplary customer service. As quick as most of us are to complain about mistreatment and minor injustices, I think it’s equally important to recognize when people go above and beyond to treat their customers with kindness, compassion and generosity. Thanks so much to OtterBox, lulu lemon, Starbucks and Apple.

Have you experienced good customer service lately? Share your story in the comments!

Quinoa, Black Bean and Fresh Cilantro Salad

My kids aren’t the biggest bean fans (even though I keep telling them they are the musical fruit) so I have to be a bit sneaky to get them into their diets. This salad has a generous helping of nutrient dense black beans and against all odds – my kids will eat it. Although you can see the beans in this salad, they are so mixed together with the quinoa and other ingredients that the kids kind of forget about them.

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This is a flavourful and fresh grain dish that can be served either warm or cold and keeps beautifully in the fridge for a few days. I like to make up a big batch on Monday and have it for a hearty lunch or quick dinner a few times during the week. You can even pop some into a wrap with a bit of hummus or throw it over some mixed greens for a more traditional salad.

quinoa 1

Quinoa is considered a superfood because of its wide range of nutritional benefits. It is high in protein, fiber, iron and calcium and it is gluten-free which makes it easy to digest. And when you combine the quinoa with protein-rich beans and super-detoxifying cilantro you end up with a power-packed meal that is tasty and a breeze to throw together.

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Yes, the beans can make you a bit…ahem…gassy. But this is actually a good thing to mention around your kids. Trust me, nothing works better than a good fart joke when you are serving a new dish to your family.

Quinoa, Black Bean and Fresh Cilantro Salad

quinoa salad

1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup uncooked organic quinoa
1 1/2 cups of low sodium vegetable broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame beans
1 15 oz can of black beans (I like Eden Organics brand)
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic and sauté for 5-6 minutes or until lightly browned.

Rinse and drain quinoa at least 3 times under cold running water. Add to saucepan and cover with broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in corn and edamame and continue to simmer (covered) for 5 minutes until heated through.

Mix in black beans and cilantro. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!