Sunny & Warm Salad for Dark Days

This guy needs some citrus fruits & spinach!

How’s it looking where you are these days?  Is it cold?  Gray?  Rainy?  Snowy?  Is there slush involved?  If you answered yes to any of the above, chances are this week’s recipe is just what you need.  Most of us crave oranges and other citrus fruits in the winter.  There’s good reason for this beyond just that extra boost of vitamin C that all of our immune systems can use to help keep winter viruses at bay.  When we eat those beautiful orange and yellow tangerines and grapefruits, we’re taking in the tropical sunshine — if we can’t get it outside, we can get it on the inside!  Fruits and vegetables soak up the energy from the places they grow, and our bodies instinctively know this.

Satsuma tangerines … mmmm … full of Sunshine & Vitamin C.

Warming spices such as ginger and chilis are also good to incorporate as much as possible during the winter months, and this recipe has a little bit of everything. This “salad” is actually a full meal with plenty of summer sunshine in the citrus, plus protein, greens, and the healthy fat contained in avocado.  In Chinese dietetics, raw vegetables are considered “cold” — I’ll get more into this kind of food classification in a future post — but it’s best not to overwhelm the digestive system’s fire with too much cold.  Very light steaming of green veggies takes care of this.  In this recipe, the spinach is just barely cooked by combining it with the hot quinoa.  The result is a fresh, light meal that’s still warming enough for a Northern winter but with faint hints of places south of the border.  Put some salsa music on in the kitchen, and you’ll hardly know it’s winter out there 🙂

IMG_0982 (1)
Eat the rainbow!


  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach

    My local market’s art department is dreaming about citrus too … they covered their bags with them!  (This is the bag just before it walked home in the pouring rain with me.)
  • 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed & drained
  • 1  avocado
  • 1 grapefruit or two tangerines
  • 1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper (and as much fresh jalapeno as you like, diced)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 inch chunk fresh ginger root
  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
  • tamari, soy sauce or Bragg’s to taste
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • splash of olive oil
  • fresh, chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

First, get the quinoa cooking.  Bring two cups of water to a boil in a heavy bottomed pot, add a splash of olive oil with quinoa, turn heat to low and simmer, covered until the water is absorbed.  I like to use my frying pan with a glass lid for this because it’s easy to see how the quinoa is doing and easier to fit in all the spinach.  But a pot would work too. While the quinoa is cooking, chop your avocado and whatever fruit you’re using into bite size chunks.  Roast your pepper briefly — I just put it on the burner (DO NOT WALK AWAY) and turn it every few minutes.  Let cool and chop. Slice the onion.

Quinoa & bell pepper doing their thing

Okay, now here’s the slightly tricky part … the best time to put the spinach in the pan with the quinoa is just before all the liquid has been completely absorbed.  Poke down through the quinoa with a fork after about ten minutes of cooking, and see how much water is left.  If there is just the barest hint of water, cram the spinach all in there quickly, and recover the pot.  Let it all steam for about a minute more at which point the spinach will be wilted, and the water absorbed.  (This is why it helps to have a glass lid!)  Remove the pan from the heat, take off the cover, and mix the quinoa and spinach.  Sometimes I get all the timing right; sometimes I don’t and have to add another tablespoon of water so the spinach wilts.  Or — you might end up with more raw, crunchy spinach.  If you

Mix in that spinach — it should still be bright green!

like that, fine.  It’s going to be good either way.  Stir in the strained black beans.

Now make your dressing.  Peel the garlic, and cut the ginger into whatever size slices your blender can handle.  Add cumin, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, and a cup of water.  Blend til smooth.  Now add as much soy sauce, Braggs or salt as you want.  You can also substitute orange juice for half or all of the water for a much more citrusy taste.  You could also add a handful of fresh cilantro.  Experiment!  This dressing is terrific to have on hand — you will probably have more than you need so stick it in the fridge in a jar.  It’s good on almost anything.  It does thicken up fairly quickly — just think it out with a little more water.

These days, while back in school, I am a big fan of the meal-in-a-pot concept, and I just throw it all in together.  But this recipe is also really pretty using the quinoa/spinach/black bean mixture as a base and then artfully layering the other colorful elements on top in individual bowls, and serving the dressing on the side.  This is how I would do it if I were serving it for a dinner party or to my family.  Also, this salad does not keep well if it’s ll mixed together.  If you want to keep leftovers to take to work, etc., you can throw it all together except for the citrus & avocado.  Keep them in a separate tupperware and the dressing separate.  Then it will be fresh and nice when you mix it together, rather than a soggy mess.

Lunch while studying … food for body and mind!

This recipe makes a full skillet of food.  (Small quantities are not my forte.)  Enough to feed 4-5 hungry people as a full meal.  In the summer I like to make a variation of this salad, using tomato instead of the citrus fruit, a handful of fresh basil instead of ginger in the dressing, and substituting sliced almonds for the pumpkin seeds.  The quinoa, spinach and beans provide a good base for almost any combo of veggies on top.  Go wild 🙂

Gimme another bite of spinach!!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Marly Rogers says:

    Yummy sweetheart! I’ll give it a try. XO Marly


    1. It will feed the whole house! 🙂


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