Cheap Eats: Lentil Quinoa Salad
by Linda Stewart
Summer means heat, and heat means cravings for cool, light, refreshing meals. When I get home from work on a hot July day, the last thing I want to do is heat up my A/C-less apartment by turning on the oven or standing over the stove. Behold the wonder of Lentil Quinoa Salad. The fresh herbs and lemon give it a light, refreshing taste, and the quinoa and lentils make it filling enough to create a whole meal out of it. (Not gonna lie — the last three nights, I’ve just grabbed a fork and eaten this stuff straight out of its container in the fridge.) Bonus: It’s super cheap, and the recipe makes enough to feed an army.
Here’s what you need…
• 1 cup quinoa
• 1 cup green or brown lentils
• 2 lemons, zested*
• 1/2 cup lemon juice
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tsp paprika
• 2–3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1/4–1/2 cup basil, chopped
• 1/4–1/2 cup parsley, chopped*
• 4 big or 6 small green onions, minced (white parts only)*
*These are the ingredients I had to buy, for a grand total of $2.97.
Other ingredient costs: The basil came off a plant I bought at the grocery store for $2.99, which was the same price as a pre-cut bunch. Now I can have fresh basil whenever I want! Lentils are $0.99 per pound, and 1 cup is a little less than 1/2 a bag. And honestly, my 4-pound bag of quinoa has been with me forever, so I have no idea how much I spent on it. But based on Amazon and Google Shopping prices, it looks like quinoa is about $4.00–5.00 per pound, less if you buy it from the bulk bins. It’s more expensive than, say, rice, but oh-so-delicious and versatile and healthy. And did I mention it lasts forever? Buy it in bulk and store it in an airtight container someplace dark and cool. You can thank me later. Like the lentils, 1 cup is a little less than half a pound.
So, all told, the main ingredients come to less than $7.00, plus the oil, garlic, and spices, which you probably have lying around. Like I said, this recipe makes a lot, so you can easily feed a large group or have it as a meal or side dish for several days.
To assemble, rinse the quinoa in a mesh strainer and then combine it in a small pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low heat and simmer for 15–20 minutes. Combine the lentils in a small or medium pot with enough water to cover the lentils by at least an inch. You can also use vegetable broth for a little extra flavor. Bring lentils to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low heat and simmer for 30–40 minutes.
While those are cooking, assemble the dressing: lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, garlic, and salt and pepper. For the lemon juice, I like to squeeze the lemons — after zesting — into a 1 cup liquid measuring cup (two lemons usually yields between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of juice), pick out the seeds with a fork, and then top it off with that lemon juice that comes in a lemon-shaped-and-colored bottle from the produce section. Then add the rest of the ingredients to the measuring cup and stir it up with a fork. Set aside.
You can either chop the herbs and green onions now or wait ’til you get home. You won’t add them until the salad has cooled. Chop ’em up nicely and stick them in the fridge covered in plastic wrap while the salad cools.
When the lentils and quinoa have finished cooking, combine them in a large bowl and stir them together. If you’re like me, you will slop some over the side of the bowl no matter how carefully you stir. Just shrug and eat it anyway, assuming your counters are (relatively) clean. Give the dressing a quick stir, since the lemon juice and oil will have separated, and then pour it over the lentils and quinoa. Mix to coat evenly. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 60–90 minutes to cool. Add the herbs and onions, mix, and enjoy!
This is one of those dishes that’s better a day or two later, when the flavors have had time to mingle. This is a great potluck dish (especially since it’s vegan and gluten free), but make sure you save some for yourself to eat tomorrow. It’s also delicious on crackers! Oh, and if you really must have a hot meal, grate some cheddar cheese over the top of the leftovers and nuke it!
Have a cheap eats recipe to share? Send it in!
Linda Stewart eats, dances, and works in the Bay Area. After finding that YouTube clip, she spent the next 45 minutes watching Looney Toons clips with a dopey grin on her face.