Spicy Quinoa, Kale & Chicken Salad

finishedsalad

During the work week, I am obsessed with efficiency. Therefore, I try to cut out as many time-sucking chores as I can — including the tedious task of choosing a new Seamless lunch order. Instead, I’ll become obsessed with one item — and order it every single day for the next two months.

Some may call this a rut. I just call it a comfortable routine. But lately, my favorite lunch — a quinoa-chicken-kale concussion from Chop’t — has started hitting me where it hurts: the wallet. At $16 per delivery order (includes tax and tip), this salad is running me at least $64 per week.

I set out to make my own version. Here’s what I came up with:

The chicken can marinate for up to two days.
The chicken can marinate for up to two days.

First, I marinate organic chicken breasts. The marinade is super-simple: just one can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce blended with some water in the Vitamix. I leave the chicken to nap with the marine for a couple of days in the fridge.

Crust up the chicken with pimentón and chili powder.
Crust up the chicken with pimentón and chili powder.

When I’m ready to cook the chicken, I brush the breasts with olive oil (using a silicon brush) and then pack on the spices. (I used pimentón and chili powder, but you could switch those out for herbs de Provence or roughly chopped rosemary and thyme, depending on your desired flavor profile.) You can bake or grill the chicken. I bake them for 30-40 minutes at 400 degrees (using this method).

Rinsing the quinoa and cilantro = a must.
Rinsing the quinoa and cilantro = a must.

While the chicken is baking, rinse off the quinoa, kale and cilantro. The quinoa tastes bitter and “off” if you don’t rinse it first. As for the greens, I get the organic stuff, so it’s usually covered in dirt and bugs. (By the way, the insects are a good sign. It means the produce hasn’t been sprayed to death with pesticides.)

For zingy flavor, mix in lime zest and scallions with the quinoa.
For zingy flavor, mix in lime zest and scallions with the quinoa.

The quinoa is the base of the entire salad. (It’s super simple to make using this method.) I like to flavor the quinoa with lime zest and scallions. No oil, salt or fat required!

Well, until you get to the dressing.

The dressing ingredients, pre-blend.
The dressing ingredients, pre-blend.

The dressing I usually get at Chop’t is a spice ranch. I wanted to attempt a somewhat healthier option, so I whipper up my own recipe. The base of this dressing is sour cream, Veganaise and chipotle peppers in adored sauce. (I use a whole can of the latter and eyeball the rest.) The peppers are super spicy, so I cute the heat with a drizzle of honey, and I usually add a squirt of lime juice and some olive oil to emulsify everything. The result is a pale orange dressing that buzzes your lips off. The good news? Because it’s so spicy, you’ll only need to use it sparingly.

The rest of the salad is yours to customize. I start with a base of kale, topped with the lime and scallion-studded quinoa. Then I heap on the chicken and cilantro. Next comes a sprinkling of cotija cheese, pepitas and black beans. Then I sling on a wedge of lime and a drizzle of dressing.

Voila! A delicious salad that's cheaper than Chop't.
Voila! A delicious salad that’s cheaper than Chop’t.

Because I make this salad every day for my work lunch, I do all the prep work on Sunday and assemble what I need the night before I eat it.

I buy enough to feed my husband and I for at least six meals each. For us, a two-cup bag of quinoa, four chicken breasts, four cans of black beans and one bunch each of scallions, cilantro and kale will make enough salad for the whole week.

If you try this salad, please let me know what you think!