Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad

I found out years ago that I’m allergic to wheat and corn (among many other things). I was younger then and didn’t really care about my health very much, and so long as I didn’t notice side effects it didn’t seem to be a big deal to me. Then I hit 30, and my body started to react aversely to lots of foods I knew I wasn’t supposed to be eating. Gotta love getting older!

I’ve spent the last few years trying to nail down exactly how certain foods affect me and avoid ones that don’t make me feel well or leave me feeling sluggish. Both wheat and corn keep popping up on my radar as things that my body simply does not like. Thankfully I don’t eat a lot of bread as is, but darn it if I don’t crave it all the time now! Corn, however, is in so many foods and is hard to avoid, especially when you’re a huge Tex-Mex fan like I am.

In America, being allergic to corn is like a death sentence because everything seems to contain corn. I picked up some gluten-free pasta the other day and was so excited that I could once again enjoy pasta without feeling icky the next day. Much to my dismay, I still woke up feeling icky and decided to read the label. I know, I should have done that from the get go, but I was in a hurry that night at the grocery store and starving from a long bike ride around the lake. Great – it contained corn flour and rice flour. Does everything really have to contain corn? I’m pretty sure Whole Foods has pasta made out of other various grains, so I know not all hope is lost. Thankfully I don’t eat a lot of pasta as is, but sometimes I crave a big ol’ bowl of it, ya’ know?!

Moving on… I decided to see if I could find any new quinoa recipes since – *ahem* – the UN has declared 2013 as the Year of Quinoa. Did you hear the trumpets blaring? Yah, me neither. All jokes aside, people around the world are toting quinoa as an alternative for those who wish to eat healthier, especially people with certain dietary needs. That’s when I ran across this recipe on Epicurious’ website. The combination of flavors and the fact that it looked so fresh really had my interest piqued, so I tried it and this is what I made:

Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad

Here are some changes I made from the original recipe:

1. I substituted red quinoa for the couscous (see note below in Cook’s Notes).

2. I didn’t spend crazy money on fancy greens and instead purchased baby spring mix, my go-to salad greens of choice.

3. I grilled the chicken instead of sautéing it in a pan. I just have a cheapy cast iron grill pan that was a gift years ago and it’s awesome. You can spend 4x more at high-end kitchen stores, but for the 1-2x a month that I use this pan it works awesome and has held its own going on 4 years now. Also, the chicken breasts I found were easily 6 ounces each, so 1/2 chicken breast was ample for each serving.

4. I cut my peppers a little bit bigger because, let’s be honest, I don’t have time to make things all fancy. Besides, I like some crunch in my quinoa! Also, the original recipe called for a very small amount of bell peppers, but I just chopped up half of each bell pepper. Don’t be shy with your veggies! :-)

For any vegetarians out there: I ate leftovers the next day and simply tossed a large handful of greens in the salad dressing and piled the leftover quinoa salad on top, garnished with a few mango slices and it was awesome! I didn’t miss the protein at all, and quinoa is a good filler since greens don’t really have that effect. ;-) Quinoa has a good amount of protein in it, plus you could easily throw on some beans or tofu.

Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Epicurious.com

1/2 cup quinoa (any color works, but I liked red)
1 cup water
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
4-6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (depending on taste)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 ounces each)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
Mixed greens of your choice
1/2 mango, peeled and thinly sliced

1. Rinse quinoa (if the brand you purchased isn’t already rinsed) and place in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until grains are translucent and the germ has spiraled out from each grain, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2. While quinoa is cooking, heat grill pan (or sauté pan), coat with a little olive oil and cook chicken. I sliced my chicken before cooking it because it results in a much quicker cooking time (although it does lose some of the moisture), but feel free to cook the whole breast and slice post-cooking.

3. While chicken is cooking, combine the bell peppers, onion, lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

4. In another small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, rice vinegar, mustard (don’t use French’s yellow mustard!), honey and soy sauce. Set aside.

5. Once quinoa has finished cooking, add the bell pepper mixture to the saucepan and toss to coat (see note below in Cook’s Notes). Season with salt/pepper, if desired.

6. Place greens in a medium bowl, add a few Tablespoons of the vinaigrette, season with salt/pepper and toss to evenly coat (see note below in Cook’s Notes).

7. Arrange greens on plates, put a large spoonful of quinoa across from it, top with the chicken and garnish with the mango. Enjoy!


Cook’s Notes

1. Is there a difference between regular, red and black quinoa? The main difference is the flavor. Red and black have a more distinct flavor, but to me it’s not overwhelming. Also, red and black have a bit more of a crunchy mouth-feel which is really nice in a recipe like this one. If you only have regular or are only able to find regular, you’ll be just fine. I happened to find red, plus I think the color looks nice.

2. The original recipe calls for the quinoa/couscous salad to be cold, but I kind of enjoyed it warm. If you prefer it cold, I would cook the quinoa the night before, toss it with the pepper mixture and refrigerate overnight. When I ate my leftovers the following day, I didn’t even reheat it and it tasted great straight from the fridge and piled on top of the greens.

3. The vinaigrette yields far too much dressing for 4 people. You could easily cut the vinaigrette ingredients in half and it would probably be the perfect amount. I really like the flavor of the dressing, though, so I kept the leftover in my fridge and have used it on salads all week. The nutritional content reflects only half the vinaigrette ingredients since I highly doubt people will use all that dressing for 4 people!

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 309; Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 1.2g; Cholesterol: 54mg; Sodium: 288mg; Carbs: 28g; Dietary Fiber: 2.8g; Sugars 14g; Protein: 22g

*Please note the nutritional information is only an estimate.*

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