Southwest Quinoa Salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

My Dad is a nutritionist’s, personal trainer’s, and doctor’s dream. He follows instructions and has admirable levels of will power. Over the past several years, he has gradually lost weight and completely changed his lifestyle, all under professional guidance and with no extreme diets or fad exercise routines. He’s definitely the healthiest septuagenarian I know.

When I visit him in California, I benefit from all this because all I have to do is wake up and get dressed and I have a ride and a gym buddy every morning. We usually do some grocery shopping afterwards, for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional pre-made dish from the Whole Foods salad bar. One day his favorite one of these, a quinoa salad with corn and black beans, was no longer available. It had become one of my faves as well, and I was disappointed to not see it in the fridge when I was home in June. I decided to recreate it myself, and Father’s Day seemed like just the occasion for it.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

Shopping for produce in California is AN ABSOLUTE JOY. I never really appreciated this before moving to Dubai. The availability of local produce in California is exceptional, and the summer haul is hard to beat. I still come across some California fruits in Dubai, but it makes me sad to think about how long they must have been sitting on a boat to get here. Not exactly fresh from the farm. Not to mention the sticker shock of all the imported goods, and by imported goods I mean nearly everything.

Enter this fresh sweet corn from Northern California! I admit, it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually shucked corn and cut it off the cob myself. I tend to just keep frozen corn stocked and had convinced myself it “tastes the same.” NO it does not! The extra effort is definitely worth it. That said, of course you could still make this recipe with good ol’ frozen kernels.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty
I roasted the corn on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. This was definitely the star of the dish. Of course, the local avocados also helped. Lately it seems I don’t eat much without adding avocado to it. I can’t help it, I’m Californian. It’s what we do.

I made a pretty huge batch so that Dad (and I!) could enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. Good thing it was a hit, because we sure did have a lot of it! That day I served it as a side for some roasted salmon, along with some truly special heirloom carrots. It’s also great on its own for a light and healthy lunch (Dad-approved, vegan and gluten free, btw) and would be the perfect dish to bring to a summer BBQ. In Dubai we can only have winter BBQs, but you get the idea.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Big Batch of Salad
2 cups uncooked white Quinoa
3 ears of Corn, cut off the cob
2 large Avocados, diced
1 red Bell Pepper, diced
1 medium Red Onion, diced
1 can Black Beans, rinsed
Handful Cilantro, chopped or cut with shears
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

For the Dressing
Juice from 2 Limes
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 Tbs Honey
1/2 to 1 tsp Chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

NOTE: This is a big batch, but you can easily reduce amounts of everything if desired!

To cook the quinoa, bring the 2 cups of quinoa plus 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan on the stove. (If you are cooking for fewer people, try 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water. Just remember it’s always a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa). As soon as it’s bubbling and boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for a bit before adding other ingredients, as the salad should be served room temp or slightly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Add corn kernels to a cookie sheet or shallow roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Combine cooked quinoa with prepared vegetables, beans, and cilantro, adding the corn when it has cooled. In a separate bowl, whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Treat the given measurements as a guideline, adding more or less of what you like to suit your tastes. Skip the chili powder if you’re averse to spicy (like my Dad!). Taste it to make sure it’s not too tart or too spicy, and add a little more honey and/or salt and pepper if needed to balance out the flavor. Drizzle over the salad and lightly toss together.

If you want to garnish with some pretty avo slices like in the photo, this is how to do it:
Slice the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Gently peel off the skin, which should be easy if it’s ripe. Lay the avocado half flat-side down and slice lengthwise in narrow strips. Pick a few pretty bits to fan out and place on top of your salad so when you enter the party everyone says OOOOOOH briefly before eating it all and telling you how awesome you are.


© Cook it Pretty 2016


Tuna Salad You Can Get Excited About

Tuna Salad You Can Get Excited About | Cook it PrettyTuna salad is typically not anything to write home about, but I promise if you try this combination you’re going to get out your pen.

The best thing about tuna in general is it’s gotta be the easiest protein to keep around. Canned white meat tuna is super inexpensive and those days when I feel like I need to up my protein, chances are it’s already in my cabinet.

My favorite combo brings together sweet, savory, spice, and crunch and I find it so satisfying I don’t even need to put it on bread – so gluten free or carb conscious folks, this works for you! It’s a healthy, guilt free, and quick lunch that I actually crave.

Laura’s Favorite Tuna Salad

2 cans white meat tuna (I prefer packed in water), drained
Light mayo, to taste
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 large or 2 small celery stalks, chopped
Handful Dried cranberries
Handful raw almonds, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Add more seasoning, cranberries, or nuts to taste. Enjoy alone, on crackers, or in a sandwich.

What do you like or hate in your tuna salad?

© Cook it Pretty 2015

It’s January. Eat a Salad.

We’re all trying to eat a little better in 2015. Sometimes you need a salad, but it’s even better to want a salad. Here’s my favorite conglomeration of healthy and colorful things, which happily are also delicious together.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach is my favorite healthy green base, and I’m just not going to be that into a salad that doesn’t have cheese or avocado involved somehow. Throw in some corn, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and an easy homemade balsamic dressing and you’re in biz.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

For the Salad
1 bag or package of baby spinach
1-2 cups frozen cut corn, thawed
1 avocado, cubed
1 cucumber, sliced (here in Dubai they’re local or Omani cucumbers, you can find Persian cucumbers at Trader Joe’s in the US)
2 handfuls of mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 red onion, diced finely (to taste, a little goes a long way)
1 handful of crumbled feta cheese

For the Dressing
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pinch of dried herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, optional

Boom. A healthy and tasty salad for all your New Years Resolution needs, and an easy homemade dressing you’ll probably always have the ingredients for. All measurements are approximate, taste and adjust to your preference.

Couscous or Quinoa, Pumpkin or Squash?

Any conversation about squash or pumpkin can get pretty confusing around here. In Dubai, and apparently in Australia as well, butternut squash is referred to as butternut pumpkin. I’ve also seen acorn squash labeled as green pumpkin. I like pretty much all manner of squash and/or pumpkin and tend to gravitate toward recipes with these ingredients. (A recent review of my Pinterest boards made that pretty clear).

Butternut Squash Couscous | Cook it Pretty

So I recently picked up a “butternut pumpkin” and was looking for a recipe to use it with. I opted for  this Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Cranberry from The Kitchn. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for not soaking the dried cranberries (I eat them straight from the bag anyway – anyone know why I would need to soak them?) and adding some honey to the dressing as I found it a little too strong on the vinegar. I do love the local couscous, how cute is the packaging?

Dubai Couscous | Cook it Pretty

As I was making it I realized how close this recipe is to the Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that is a big favorite of mine. After tasting it, I concluded that I prefer the quinoa/acorn version. This recipe from Camille Styles is the favorite of which I speak. I’ve made it over and over and it has sweet, salt, spice, and heat in all the right places. I always use cranberries instead of currants and different chopped nuts instead of pepitas, and my favorite personal addition is dates.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash | Cook it Pretty

I think this one also wins for presentation, and the addition of greens ups the health factor. Secret bonus of this presentation – no peeling or chopping the squash. That’s right, it’s actually easier to make it the cute way this time. I’ve made it clear in the past how partial I am to quinoa. Maybe I’m biased, but quinoa beats couscous this round. Cute camel packaging notwithstanding.

Call them Capsicums

Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Pinterest vs. Reality: Santa Fe Stuffed Peppers

Oh the joys of little differences living abroad. In Dubai, most produce is called by its British name. Therefore, bell pepper is capsicum, zucchini is courgette, and eggplant is aubergine. I can never remember to call cilantro coriander. My spellcheck doesn’t even understand courgette or aubergine.

So I suppose I’ve made Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums, recipe from Skinnytaste. Skinnytaste is a fantastic source of inspiring recipes! This is a good one when you’re craving Mexican flavors but want to keep it lighter. It also yields a lot, and makes great leftovers.

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicums

Capsicums and Coriander

I used to complain about how hard it is to cook for one, because I always had so much left over and felt like I was often wasting ingredients when they went bad before I could consume them all. I was missing the upside, which was that after I invested all the time in making a big meal, I was set with leftovers for a bit. Not so much now that I live with a hungry man. Now I hardly ever have leftovers and I feel like the food just goes so quickly!

Santa Fe Stuffed Capsicum

As long as there’s avocado…I shall be happy.

So I appreciate that this large batch recipe holds up well for leftovers and it’s super satisfying and healthy. I’ve already whined about the lack of black beans here, so I subbed another type of bean and added more corn. The other modification I made this round was that I used chicken instead of turkey. I haven’t found ground turkey here yet, but I did find “minced chicken”. Worked just as well!

This recipe is easy to modify, so try it with different proteins or go all-veg! It will always look cute when served in the pepper. Er, capsicum.

A House Divided …Over Quinoa

Some consider quinoa a food trend, but I consider it a staple. I get it, you’re sick of hearing about it and seeing it on menus, you’ve seen it all before, foodies! The thing you might be overlooking is that quinoa is both delicious and good for you – a rare combination that never goes out of style in my book. I’m not mad at the trend because it provides me with an endless supply of new recipes to try. Quinoa bites? Yes. Quinoa for breakfast? Let’s do it. Quinoa salads? E’ryday.


I first learned of quinoa at a vegetarian restaurant in LA when it made a sneaky appearance in an otherwise typical salad, and was described on the menu as a superfood/protein booster. I was intrigued. I Googled. I bought it next time I saw it at Trader Joe’s. I tested a few Pinterest recipes and loved them all. I’m ALL IN on this super grain.

Except when I try to serve it to the man, who doesn’t even like the word quinoa. But…but…it’s a versatile grain with high protein content! A house divided. So I’m pretty determined to prove that I’m right on this issue. Especially when we are trying to eat healthy, how (and WHY) would I eliminate quinoa from my already small repertoire?

Broc n Toms
I’ve tried serving him things without telling him what he’s eating. But I have a terrible poker face and when I say it’s “fancy cous cous” or “just some salad thing” he’s sooo not falling for it. So when the other day I was told I could make anything I wanted for dinner as long as it contained a lot of vegetables, I took the opportunity to try to win him over to team quinoa once and for all.

This recipe features roasted broccoli and is topped with creamy goat cheese. The technique of cooking the quinoa in stock gives the dish a fuller and more satisfying flavor. I have a bad (or great) habit of adding more and more goat cheese to my bowl when I eat this…what can I say, goat cheese makes me happy.

Broc Quinoa
You guys, it worked! He liked it. Must have been the goat cheese.

I found the original recipe on Design Sponge. (Only now in re-reading it do I realize it’s from the creator of What’s Gaby Cooking, which I’m a big fan of as well). I’ve made a couple modifications, such as using broccoli instead of broccolini and roasting the tomatoes, so I’ll include my “Cook it Pretty way” below. Maybe it will win you over too!

Roasted Broccoli & Quinoa With Goat Cheese

Broc Quinoa Goat
1 bunch broccoli
Olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa (mix white and red quinoa)
2 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
Crumbled goat cheese to taste
10 or so cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring quinoa and stock to a boil on the stove top. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

Place broccoli on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Roast for 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven to add tomatoes. Return pan to oven and continue roasting another 5 minutes.

Combine the cooked quinoa and roasted broccoli and tomatoes in a bowl, topping with goat cheese. Serve warm, and keep that goat cheese handy!

Good Girl Train: Hummus Chicken & Veggies

Three weeks of vacation back home turned into a vacation from caring about what I eat or how much exercise I get. I don’t get to eat all this amazing US food anymore, I needed it ALL! It was glorious, but it’s time to get real and hop back on the good girl train. (I did pick up another great baking-with-mom recipe in the process, which I’ll tell you all about soon.) I got a good start this week in the fitness and food departments. Admittedly, this is one that isn’t so pretty, but it’s impressively delicious which is what really matters.

Veg Chop

At least produce is always pretty. Wishlist: pretty cutting board.

This EASY Hummus-Crusted Chicken recipe from gimmesomeoven is a great way to get a lot of protein and veggies in one pan. I never would have thought to bake chicken topped with hummus, but now that you’re thinking about it, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Now consider chopping up some squash and onions and cooking them all together as one healthy, happy, flavorful meal. Yum, and so little cleanup to go with it. It’s also gluten-free and low-carb, if those are things that matter in your life. Perfect for your post-workout dinner! I even used a disposable pan this time…so it really couldn’t get easier.

Zuc and Onion

Veggie layer with zucchini, onion, olive oil, s&p.

I follow the recipe from gimmesomeoven pretty closely, except that I have skipped the lemon slices on occasion and I use regular paprika because I don’t like smoked. I have found that flavored hummus makes it extra tasty, infusing a lot of extra flavor into the chicken. If you go this route, I recommend Trader Joe’s three-layer hummus. (Do it in my honor, since I’m living in a Trader Joe’s-less world.) You can omit the onions if you’re not a fan, add garlic cloves, or change up the squash. For example, I have made this with nothing but zucchini and chicken and been happy with the outcome.

Hummus Chicken


Serve with a glass of wine and enjoy, you deserve it!

Taste the Rainbow: Salad Edition

One of the prettiest aspects of cooking (or in this case, food prepping) is the mingling of colorful ingredients. It also helps to know that the more vibrant produce you have going on, the healthier your meal will be. After a holiday weekend, we could all use a renewal of our commitment to eating healthy stuff for a bit, yes? Combine that with my OCD preference for things arranged by color, and you’ll see why I was immediately attracted this seven layer salad on Pinterest.

Rainbow Salad

Pinterest vs. Reality: Rainbow Salad

The list of ingredients sent me on quite the mission through Carrefour, a gigantic French grocery chain that’s located in – where else? – an even gigantic-er mall. Once I ditched the olives (I have an aversion) and decided I wanted to add cucumbers and spinach, I had a list of 11 produce items to locate in the desert. I was surprisingly successful thanks to the impressive selection of imports from places like Oman, Kenya, Australia, and the Netherlands. The fresh herbs were a little wilted, but they existed. To be fair, it’s 109 plus humidity…I’m a little wilted too.


No shortage of produce here.

The only things I just couldn’t find were black beans. You would think a dry or canned item would be the easiest on the list. I ended up subbing a different dark-colored bean for the whole rainbow effect, but it’s hard to beat that winning combo of corn, avocado and black beans. Salad wasn’t ruined, but would be even better with all the right goods.

Due to the aforementioned OCD tendencies, my version was put in the correct color order. So I’m calling it Rainbow Salad instead of seven nine layer salad.

Rainbow Salad Closeup

This is the kind of pretty I’m all about.

The creamy salad dressing kicks it up a notch, and I’m a fan of the Greek yogurt sub for mayo. I was skeptical about the salsa, but that’s because I was so excited about gathering the produce that I kinda skimmed the rest of the recipe, which requires the use of a blender. Blended up salsa mixture does sound like a more promising dressing consistency than whisked up salsa mixture (which is how I have previously made dressings). However, let this be a lesson about reading the instructions before committing to making something, so you aren’t like me 90% through the process – oh snap, I need a blender for this??

All told, it was fun to put together, pretty, healthy, tasty, and satisfying. The man (understandably) thought I was crazy for the whole rainbow thing, but he liked eating it. Find the original recipe and instructions on SoupAddict. Keep the dressing separate and you’ll have good leftovers for a few days, this is a very large salad! Make it your own with whichever greens and veggies you like. You can’t mess up. Unless you forget your rainbow colors. ROYGBP people.