Chicken Quinoa Salad

Whoa! One-stop-shop for everything you crave: Flavor, nutrients, protein, fiber, and overall mouthwatering joy! This is your huckleberry, as in the best chicken (and quinoa) salad ever. Sweet sun dried tomatoes add their chewy goodness to the entire dish, and then green onions, parsley, oregano, and garlic bring the party home. Ready in less than 20 minutes, and perfectly delicious hot or cold, you need to try this. 

I realize I say that a LOT ("You need to try this"). Fact is, I'm never lying. I always mean it from the bottom of my heart. I create dishes with you (my readers) in mind. And many of you request wholesome dishes that scream flavor and texture. This is that meal. And there are enough of you asking for dairy-free options... I get it. I use a copious amount of cheese. Regularly. NOT HERE! Intense Mediterranean flavors abound; and no dairy for miles. You guys are gonna lose your minds over this one.

Quinoa primer ('cause you know me...): Quinoa is a whole grain that's brimming with protein and fiber, and it's ready to serve in less than 15 minutes. In this recipe, once the quinoa is cooked, it's a simple dump-and-stir dish. You'll find cooked chicken (which I cook in a skillet in the recipe below), but you could certainly use leftover chicken from a previous meal. Or grab a rotisserie chicken from the market (or hit up their deli for grilled chicken breasts).

For vegan version, leave the chicken out!

And feel free to play around with the seasonings. I added parsley because I love how it plays with the sun dried tomatoes. That said, basil is a great playmate too. In fact, parsley AND basil would be fabulous.

About the sun dried tomatoes: I call for oil-packed tomatoes here for a reason: I want you to use some of the oil in the salad. It's got a deep, rich, sweet nuance that can't be beat. Never throw that oil away when the sun dried tomatoes are gone! Use the oil in salads, dressings and to pan-fry chicken, beef, seafood, and vegetables. Don't waste a drop.

As with all my quinoa recipes, I like to add these tips (since it goes against the instructions on the quinoa packaging).
  1. Always rinse quinoa under cold water before cooking. Even if it says "rinsed" on the package. Quinoa contains saponins, naturally occurring phytochemicals (plant compounds) that can be bitter and actually foam up the cooking water. Saponins actually get their name from soap suds, because they lather up. 
  2. Use 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, just like rice.
  3. Cook the quinoa uncovered (the package will tell you to cover it) to prevent it from getting mushy. Once the liquid is absorbed, cover the pan for a quick 5-minute steam (with the pan off the heat). It's this last 50-minutes that brings out the curlicues in the grain. Winning. 
Chicken Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained (see note above)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, plus 2 tablespoons oil from jar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic (from the spice aisle)

In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa, 2 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water is completely absorbed (if necessary, reduce the heat as the water reduces).
Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes (this steams the quinoa and releases those cute little curls).
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and cooked through, stirring frequently. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and add the chicken and remaining ingredients (don't forget the sun dried tomato oil from the jar). Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.
Serves 4