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I am a meat eater, though I haven’t always been. There was a short time in the ‘90s when I had gone on vacation to New York City with my close college friend, Becky. We had a great time running around seeing the sites and meeting up with friends, but upon leaving we realized that we had underestimated the cost of the parking garage we were using for a few days. Due to this, we had just enough money to get back to Nebraska and buy barely a meal and some fruit.

So it was in Pennsylvania that Becky suggested our “Big Meal” would be at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since I had grandparents that owned a chicken restaurant, I had never been to one and wholeheartedly agreed. Not more than a couple of hours on the road later, I had the worst, full-blown food poisoning I have ever experienced. We still had many miles to go before home and classes on Monday, and it was excruciating. I vowed at that point to never eat meat again, or fish, or anything that moved.

I remained a strict vegetarian for seven years. The turning point? I was working at my aunt’s deli and had to make someone a ham sandwich. It looked good, so I made myself half of one and ate it, and it was delicious. I was a carnivore again.

However, these days I try to eat less meat, and with the number of good-tasting alternatives, it isn’t hard to do. One of my favorite meatless go-to meals is a savory quinoa salad. If cooked and eaten plain, quinoa (in my opinion) tastes terrible. In fact, my younger brother calls quinoa “misery sand.” However, if you learn how to tweak it, it can be a great-tasting, protein-packed, healthy alternative for a meatless Monday meal.

The recipe below is a favorite of mine, and I like to add chopped avocado to it and top it with a bit of sriracha sauce. Like chili, it gets better with a little time in the frig.

Ingredients

• 1 cup quinoa

• 2 cups water

• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 limes, juiced

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste

• 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

• 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

• 5 green onions, finely chopped

• 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

• Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes together in a bowl.

3. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans and green onions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Stir in cilantro; season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator.

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