Spiced Almond and Quinoa Salad

aerial view of white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula

We often hear about the benefits of eating a diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains. As this advice is very general in nature, I was interested to read about the suggested goal to aim to eat at least 30 of these plant-based foods a week. Research suggests that the health benefit of this mix will promote a more varied gut bacteria which will ultimately lead to a healthier gut microbiome.

I was curious to see how many of these foods I actually included in my diet and so started to track my intake at the beginning of the year.  On the first day, I had consumed about 12 on the list and by the second day it was up to 19.  This seemed easy and I thought I would have no problem achieving the goal of 30.  However, as the week wore on my total didn’t really budge much. Although I eat plant-based foods, as a creature of habit, it appears they tend to be the same ones!

close up of white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula

Introducing quinoa

In an effort to vary my diet, I started to look at adding foods I don’t normally eat and quinoa (keen-wah) was one of them. Quinoa cooks up fairly quickly (about 15 minutes) and can be used in a variety of dishes including soups and salads. It is naturally gluten free, rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants. It is also one of the plant-based complete proteins which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. In fact, some say quinoa is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet!

aerial view of white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula

The origins of quinoa

Referred to by ancient grains as an ancient food, quinoa originated with the Incas in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru about 5,000 years ago. Although it served as a staple food for the Incas, they also considered it a sacred crop. Known by them as the mother of all grains, the legend states “that the Incan emperor would ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every year”.

white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula and fork on the side

Recipe for Spiced Almond and Quinoa Salad

This quinoa salad was inspired by Deliciously Ella and can be prepared relatively quickly for lunch or served as a side salad to a main dish.  It is a great mix of flavours, textures and colours with crunchy nuts and seeds, soft roasted vegetables and fresh greens. In addition, this one dish will provide a whopping 9 out of the 30 plant-based foods for the week! Serve it with some avocado or hummus and the number keeps rising!

Salad:

  • 1/2 cup (100g) quinoa
  • 1 x 400g (14oz) can of chickpeas
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) whole almonds
  • handful of sunflower seeds
  • handful of pumpkin seeds
  • handful of rocket (arugula)
  • 1 tsp gound cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • pinch of chilli flakes
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Dresssing:

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula with fork resting in bowl

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (375F)
  2. Drain the chickpeas and pat dry
  3. Place diced pepper and red onion on one end of a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and salt
  4. Place chickpeas, almonds and seeds at the other end of the tray and sprinkle them with the cumin, paprika, chilli flakes and salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well so chickpeas, nuts and seeds are evenly coated.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (until nuts and seeds go crunchy)
  6. Cook quinoa by following instructions on packet (usually twice as much water to quinoa and boil for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is light and fluffy. Remove from the heat and stir the dressing ingredients through.
  7. Either serve the salad warm by mixing everything together with a handful of rocket, or wait until the quinoa and veggies and seeds have reached room temperature before tossing them together.
close up of white bowl with spiced almond and quinoa salad on bed of arugula

Closing Thoughts

Quinoa was not part of my diet growing up and so, like a lot of the popular health foods today, it almost seems like a “new” addition to our diet despite the fact that it is actually part of ancient history. Quinoa didn’t really become popular in the modern world until around the 1970s but it has proved its worth in the past and, as such a highly nutritious and versatile staple, I imagine it will continue to remain as part of our modern diet.

As it was interesting to see the reality of how little variety I was actually eating, in terms of gut health, I am definitely trying to be more aware of maintaining variety in my diet and am glad to now have quinoa to add to the mix!

dragon's picnic icon - red dragon standing and leaning on three peppers

Additional information on gut health:

Raw Ginger Bites (Vegan and GF)

stack of four raw ginger bites biscuits with stack of four more biscuits in background

Ginger is one of my kitchen staples and I appreciate its versatility as a kitchen spice for both savoury and sweet dishes. Although I have heard many words to describe the flavour of ginger such as “hot, zesty, biting, sweet, warm”, it can generally be relied on to add a spiciness, juiciness and pungency to cooking. Ginger is available in several forms including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, and powdered and can be used in many different ways.

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One Bowl Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins (Vegan and Gluten Free)

close up of three chocolate pumpkin muffins with two pumpkins in background

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and this is traditionally a time for gatherings to give thanks and share a feast. However, the act of giving thanks and expressing gratitude around harvest time is nothing new.

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A Toast to Toast

board with toasts with different toppings - dried figs, kiwi, banana and blueberry, strawberry

My early memories of toast is as a breakfast food usually topped with the basic spreads of butter and jam.  At that time toast was considered a “thrifty” choice and was often an economical way to use up stale bread.  Over the years, this “comfort food” has evolved and become a significant food trend to the extent that some toast creations are now referred to as “artisan”.

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Plant-Based Ice Cream (“Nice Cream”) with Caramel Sauce

bowl of nice cream with frozen berries

Who doesn’t love ice-cream? It seems that ice cream is probably one of the most popular desserts consumed today and, as a result of refrigeration, it can now be a household staple. Enjoyed globally, each country has its own version of the frozen treat such as gelato in Italy, kulfi In India, and mochi in Japan.

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Tropical Vacation Granola

jar of tropical vacation granola

As we move through August, I can’t help but notice that the evenings are getting darker just a little earlier and there is no doubt that summer is slipping inevitably into fall. The older I get, it feels as though time is moving faster and faster. Apparently this may be no illusion and there are various interesting theories and scientific research which suggest this might actually be the case!

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Lemon Tahini Based Sauces and Dressings

two bowls one with lemon tahini sauce and one with golden lion tahini sauce and one small jar with basic tahini sauce
Tahini Sauces: Basic Tahini, Lemon Tahini and Golden Lion

In plant-based cooking, I have come to believe that it is all about the sauce!  Previously, the idea of preparing a meal with a sauce would not have been entertained.  For one thing, I was haunted with flashbacks from school days and the intricacies involved in making items like a lump-free roux sauce! The whole idea of cooking a sauce from scratch seemed too time consuming and required more energy than I had.  However, store bought sauces and dressings can be expensive and, more importantly, there is no control over the ingredients.

When making your own sauces, you decide exactly what goes into it and this was a big motivation when I moved to whole-foods, plant-based eating. Sauces have quickly become a big part of my food preparation and it turns out it does not have to be an ordeal.  There are many quick and easy recipes that can be made ahead of time and I now keep a few batches on hand. A sauce can transform any dish from ordinary to extraordinary and with the great variety of seasonings available, the possibilities are endless for preparing new and different creations.

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Dessert with Benefits: Chocolate Avocado Mousse

two dishes of chocolate avocado mouse topped with chocolate chips almonds
Chocolate (Cacao) Avocado Mousse with slivered almonds and mini chocolate chips [Photo Credit: Joanne/Blair @ thedragonspicnic.com]

A dessert with nutritional benefits may seem too good to be true! However, there is no catch and just by including fruits and vegetables in desserts and selecting choice sweetening agents, this can be a reality. Chocolate (Cacao) Avocado Mousse is a creamy, rich mousse made with avocado and is dairy, gluten and refined-sugar free.  Super simple to make, it tastes decadent and is packed with nutritional value and health benefits!

When I was quite young, one of my first memories of the concept of vegetables in dessert happened shortly after I arrived in Canada when someone in a coffee shop ordered a carrot cake.  Of course, carrot cake is commonplace now but up until that moment, I had never heard of such a thing. I recall staring at the customer in wide-eyed amazement as my my mind reeled with an array of very unappetizing images of what a “carrot cake” might be.

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Healthy Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars

healthy no bake chewy granola bars piled on a board and one bar on a plate
Quick and Easy No-Bake Healthy Chewy Granola Bars (Photo Credit: Joanne/Blair @TheDragonsPicnic.com)

The versatility of a recipe is a high priority for me when cooking or baking and I tend to gravitate towards dishes that can withstand a degree of creativity and tolerate substitutions to whatever might be at hand. These chewy granola bars fit this bill.

I have always preferred chewy granola bars compared with their crunchy counterparts and marvelled at their gooey consistency. The chewy texture always seemed a bit magical considering they were usually loaded with crunchy nuts and seeds. When I first made this recipe, even though the mystery of the chewiness was revealed, I am pleased to say they still taste just as good!

The main dry ingredients include:

  • 1½ cups (150g) rolled oats
  • ¾ cup (25g) rice crisp cereal

Mix and Match Ingredients:

Use about 1½ cups in total of any of the following combinations:

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