It’s an odd goal for me, to tell the truth: I have often trained to get fit in order to improve my performance in some sport or another – soccer, kayaking, rock climbing, hiking – but rarely do I simply want to change the number on the scale. In fact, I haven’t even owned a scale for at least a decade. I had to buy one recently in order to keep track of this recent, rather unusual goal.
As a woman of a certain age, whose birthday in September nudged me ever closer to the half-century mark, this autumn I took stock: I was not happy with the unfamiliar and annoying baggage planted around my middle. (I’ve always put on weight mostly in my butt, thighs and hips, but not so in the 40’s my friends, more’s the pity.) Most of my jeans don’t fit, or don’t fit well. I had nagging, though relatively minor, injuries – right hand, left ankle, right shoulder – that I couldn’t seem to heal. And while I may be in better shape than many in my age group, I am certainly not my best possible self.
As an adventurous person, with adventurous friends, my life has included a number of fabulous opportunities for fun, whether it be impromptu pick-up soccer in a dusty square in Lyon, trekking up a mountain to a 13th century Buddhist temple in South Korea, kayaking crocodile- and piranha-infested waters in the Panama Canal, or a winter ascent of Mt. Washington. I never want to miss out on the fun because I don’t feel up to it; because I huff & puff climbing the driveway from the mailbox, and can’t imagine hauling my out-of-shape butt up a Colorado fourteener.
To wit: weight loss. Various vague attempts to “get back into shape” over the last couple of years have fizzled out, so this time around, I set a particular goal – lose 20 pounds – with a particular time frame: lose it & keep it off for one year.
I’m sure you already know that I don’t go in for wacky diets: no Paleo, no carb-free, no sugar-free, no high-fat or low-fat or obsess-about-fat diets for this girl. I eat pretty much what I’ve always eaten. Of course I’ve been doing all the usual things: watching my portions, getting some exercise every day, adding some weight training, counting calories, and paying more attention to macro and micro nutrients so I can ensure good nutrition on a somewhat reduced diet. And all of this micromanaging of macro nutrients revealed an issue: namely, protein. I wasn’t getting enough of it.
We just don’t eat that much meat, you see. Normally only a couple times a week, and even then, it’s usually a small amount of meat buried under an avalanche of vegetables in a soup or stew. And while grains, legumes, dairy and vegetables are all good sources of protein, meat is the gold standard for a reason: it’s nearly all protein. So, we are eating a bit more meat these days; there have been more slow-roasted steaks and baked-chicken-breast-for-sandwiches than you’d normally find in my kitchen. But we’ve also been eating a ton of this salad; this eminently adaptable, fiber-rich, protein-packed, colorful, delicious, crunchy salad.
It’s easy to make, if it takes a bit of chopping; it lasts for several days in the fridge, if you store the components separately; and it serves as a great vehicle for the teeny-tiny key limes I found at the market a week or so ago. And oh yeah: each serving contains about 14 grams of protein. Strong, lean muscles here I come!
- 1 cup quinoa
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¼ of a large head of red cabbage, slivered
- 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and grated
- about 2 cups crunchy green veg, such as celery, bok choi, fennel stalks, chard stems, sliced
- 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced, or half a red onion, finely diced
- a couple of handfuls of sunflower and/or pea shoots, rinsed
- ¼ cup leafy green herbs, such as parsley, mint, basil, chopped
- 1 cup shelled edamame, fresh or frozen & thawed (optional)
- juice of 2 or 3 limes (or several key limes)
- olive oil
- large pinch of sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- about ½ tsp ground cumin
- dash of cayenne pepper
- Cook quinoa. In a large bowl wash quinoa in two or three changes of cold water, rubbing grains and letting them settle, until the water runs clear. Drain in a fine sieve and transfer to a medium saucepan. For added flavor, you can toast the quinoa grains with a splash of olive oil for 5 – 10 minutes, or until dry. Bring to a boil over high heat in salted water to cover by 1 inch; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain quinoa and rinse under cold water. Bring about 1 inch of clean water to boil in the saucepan, with quinoa in a steamer basket above. Steam quinoa until fluffy and dry, about 10 minutes.
- Prepare vegetables. In a large bowl, combine cabbage, green vegetables, scallion, shoots, herbs and edamame, if using. Toss with your hands to mix.
- Make dressing. Squeeze lime juice into a half-pint jar. Add olive oil, in a proportion of about 2 parts oil to 1 part juice. Add salt, a few grinds of black pepper, cumin and cayenne. Cover and shake vigorously. Taste and adjust seasonings or oil/juice ratio.
- Prepare & dress salad. In another large bowl, combine about 1 cup cooked quinoa with 2 to 3 cups vegetables. Drizzle with salad dressing (you will not use it all). Toss together, using forks to keep the quinoa fluffy, until well-combined. Taste and add more dressing, and/or salt, if needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Serves 6 – 8.
- There are obviously tons of options for various veg: I like to keep them mainly crunchy, as that way the vegetables, stored separately, stay fresh in the fridge for at least 3 to 4 days.
- I’m not the biggest fan of shelled edamame: I like it steamed in the shell, and spicy, like they serve in Japanese restaurants. I slightly prefer the salad without the edamame, but it does add a nice protein boost. Tai, however, likes it better this way. Sometimes I add it, sometimes I don’t.
Store quinoa, vegetables, and dressing separately. Toss to combine when serving.