Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Easy Chicken, Artichoke & Arugula Quinoa Salad

Perhaps it’s the more temperate pace of life that summer beckons from her bright and languid perch… the desire to keep our kitchens cool… or simply the quest for something satisfying that can be pulled together at a moment’s notice… warm, cold or anywhere in between… that makes a salad like this one so appealing.

Or perhaps you, too, have two busy daughters that live in states above and below you that tend to work long hours and often say they are just too tired to think about what to make when they walk through their respective front doors after what might be considered a standard dinner hour. Perhaps.

If so... you might suggest this dish and the fact that no great thinking is required. And… if thinking is expended, it’s truly only for just a scant moment; a moment that might even result in the thought to make a big bowl of quinoa over the weekend, maybe even sauté up some chicken (or omit it altogether and add a few more veggies). Then dinner after the-dinner-making hour would simply be the tossing of a few ingredients in a big bowl. And… if good fortunate is theirs there might even be enough to have leftovers that can be packed up for lunch the next day, saving yet even more extraneous thinking (and cash) for important stuff… like shoes.

Just perhaps…

While salads, in general, are served up year round in our home as sides to other fixings, they tend to assume a more center stage position once summer rolls around and temps warm up a bit. Rather than cozying up to proteins or grains to balance out a plate, they’re pulled together into satisfying, one-dish meals. A fully balanced offering like this quick quinoa salad is to summer what soups are to our winters… varied, complete, interesting, and soothingly satisfying.

Besides being a great gluten-free option, quinoa serves as a wonderful canvas for a variety of pairings… with a mild flavor that plays well with just about anything it’s introduced to… making it a great potluck tote-along in more than one way. Though it’s often thought of as a grain, quinoa is actually a gluten-free seed. So it not only plays the chameleon in flavor, but also in guise.

Like most salads (and soups!), you can chop and drop in whatever your heart desires. If vegetarian fare is what you’re after, simply omit the chicken. If you want to lean to the greener side of things, ramp up the arugula or other leaf of your choice. If your weather calls for outside cooking, toss your chicken, some veggies (like red pepper, zucchini, red onion... and such) on the grill and mix it up a bit. This particular plating is meant for a quick and easy (no thinking) night... pairing skillet-sautéed chicken, black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, green onion, ripe tomato, and fresh arugula with a good drizzle of artichoke marinade to dress it up. The result is a salad that can be served up straight away or popped in the fridge… and later served up cold or at room temp. And… leftovers? Well, it only gets better on day two.

I don’t think there’s a better dish to whip up quick, eat hot or cold, or make with nary a thought on a busy night. It’s the perfect dish for the laziest, most languid day of summer… even if that lazy day pace is but a guise.

Easy Chicken, Artichoke & Arugula Quinoa Salad
Serves 4

1 ½ cups cooked quinoa, cooled to room temp
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced black olives (or kalamata olives)
3 roma tomatoes, diced (or 3/4 to 1 cup diced grape tomatoes)
1 to 2  6.5 ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts (as preferred), diced, marinade reserved
½ cup thinly sliced green onion (white and green parts)
2 cups fresh arugula (or leafy green of choice), firmly packed

Place cooled quinoa in a large bowl. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Season chicken well with both salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until cooked through and lightly golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool a bit (so as not to wilt your greens).

Add chicken, olives, tomato, artichoke hearts, green onion, and arugula to bowl with quinoa. Lightly dress salad with reserved marinade from artichoke hearts. Toss gently, to combine, and serve.

Refrigerate any leftovers and serve cold or at room temp the next day!

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