BLACKBERRY QUINOA SALAD WITH LEMON MINT VINAIGRETTE

While cooking, listen to this: Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers

I know what you're thinking. Another salad. Right? Well, let me tell you, there's no such thing as too many salads. I've mentioned before that salads are traditionally thought of as boring, but what if I told you that this salad was packed with so much flavor it would almost make you forget how healthy for you it is?

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This week, started off a little wobbly, but has finally found its footing. Coming back to New York after being home is never easy - the transition is almost psychological as you shift from being surrounded by family to trying to calculate the best route home and deciding when you'll actually have time to pick-up groceries and work out. On top of that, Monday was full of nervous energy, as my Michigan basketball boys were about to take on the best offensive team in the entire NCAA after knocking game-after-game out of the park. After a strong first half where we carried the lead for the first fifteen minutes or so, Villanova kicked things up a notch and we simply couldn't keep up. So what if they have six players who can drain almost any shot? Our team has way more heart, leadership and all-around menschiness, from the coach down. Plus, nobody expected us to get to the National Championship, let alone the Sweet Sixteen. We were a ragtag group of under-recruited players with so much spirit and zest that we fought our way through the tournament, despite the naysayers.

We may not have outplayed Villanova on the court, but I was damn proud (and sad!) as our boys walked away from a national championship empty handed for the second time in six years. So, I think it's safe to say we outplayed them in spirit. 

Okay, enough sports ranting. The loss was tough, but it was a good night surrounded by wonderful friends and tons of Michigan fans who'd take a bullet John Beilein any day of the week. If only I'd had this salad on hand to make things a little brighter. The flavor combination is both unexpected and fantastic. Of course, Rina was the brains behind this little concoction - I was merely the taste tester and photo dresser. Plus, this hefty salad keeps in the fridge, dressed completely, for a couple of days. Kale is the toughest of the greens, withstanding pretty much any condiment and cleaning your colon on the way out. It's what I'd call a win-win.

If you're looking for something easy and healthy this post-holiday week, then ten-out-of-ten-would-reccomend this salad, which comes together in under 30 minutes and lasts for many desk lunches. If we have to eat in front of computers and under florescent lights, then why not make it a snappy lunch with zesty flavors and nutty goodness. Best part of this salad? Easily customizable. Swap strawberries and basil for the blackberries and mint. If walnuts aren't your thing, try toasted almonds. Sub out feta. Sub in avocado. Use this opportunity to get creative. 

No matter how you mix it up, this salad will knock your socks off. A bunch of unexpected flavors come together to make something wonderful. Much like the Michigan Men's Basketball Team. After all, some of the best things come from unexpected places. 

xo, Alyssa


BLACKBERRY QUINOA SALAD WITH LEMON MINT VINAIGRETTE

Yield: 4 lunches or 6-8 side salads

Total Cook Time: 20m

Category: Salad, Gluten-Free

Special Equipment: fine-mesh sieve/strainer


Ingredients

(note: you will need 3 lemons in total!)

quinoa:

½ cup quinoa (we used tricolor, but use your fave)

1 cup vegetable stock

kale:

10 ounces kale

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 lemon's worth of juice

1 Tablespoon honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

salad:

10 ounces blackberries (about 2 small packages)

⅔ cup walnuts

⅓ cup feta, crumbled

vinaigrette:

½ cup olive oil

2 lemon's worth of juice (about ¼ cup)

½ cup chopped fresh mint

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon honey, plus more to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Prep: preheat the oven to 350F.

Clean and cook the quinoa: do NOT skip the rinsing - quinoa has a bitter/soapy taste if it isn't rinsed thoroughly. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse well, then place in a medium saucepan with the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to its lowest setting, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 more minutes.

Roast the walnuts: while the quinoa is cooking, place the walnuts on a bare, dry baking sheet and roast for 5 minutes, check on them, then roast for another 3-5. They're ready when they're a deep dark brown and smell amazing. Allow to cool, then roughly chop.

Make the vinaigrette: in a jar or dressing bottle add all of the ingredients and shake vigorously.

Prepare the kale: add the kale to a large serving bowl and drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon honey and salt and pepper. Massage into the kale so that the kale is soft and well-coated.

Assemble! add the quinoa, blackberries, roasted chopped walnuts and crumbled feta to the kale. When ready to serve, dress and toss.

To keep: kale is sturdier than other greens so it holds up well in the fridge for a couple of days, even when dressed. For optimal salad eating, though, only dress the salad when you're about to eat it.