Spicy Buffalo Quinoa Salad

ImageSo….hey.  I’ve been away for a few months, and I’m really sorry about that. I owe you all a few posts about my travels, but let’s get real…it probably won’t happen, even though it’s been a pretty epic season.  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference (check that one off in the “career dreams” category), attended and spoke at the Eat, Write, Retreat conference (definitely my favorite food blogger conference), and just returned from the Evo conference, where I soaked in the amazing conversations with so many smart, savvy women in between client commitments. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen….

Friends, we eat a LOT of quinoa in our house, in salads of all varieties. Quinoa has higher protein than other grains (technically, it’s not a grain, it’s a seed), is fairly neutral in flavor, cooks up quickly and makes some fantastic salads that can chill for days in the fridge. I love all of these qualities, which makes quinoa one of my go-to pantry staples. I’ve shared many a quinoa salad here, like the standard quinoa salad with black beans and lime-cumin vinaigrette, curried quinoa salad with mango and cilantro chutney, and roasted vegetable quinoa salad.

But with all of those variations, I’ve been getting bored. Quinoa had really lost that new-grain-on-the-block shine, and my attention has been captivated by millet, and experimenting with cooking all varieties of dried beans as inexpensive main dishes ( a la smoky bean tacos). Last week, a friend invited me to join her at Protein Bar for lunch.

For those of you not in Chicago, Protein Bar has been the HOT go-to lunch destination for Loop workers for the last year or so. It’s always packed, and they claim to do “healthy food…healthier.”  I don’t get out of my office much to take a lunch break, so I’d never been. And after eating there, I’m kind of kicking myself for the neglect, because not only do they handle gluten-free food very well, they have some interesting takes on quinoa that have reignited my love.

I enjoyed Protein Bar’s Buffalo Bowl – a generous serving of quinoa, chicken, celery, carrot, blue cheese and cucumber laced with their own buffalo sauce. I was hooked. It was amazing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the salad all afternoon, and couldn’t wait for the weekend to come, so I could try my hand at my own version.

This salad doesn’t disappoint. I added a few more veggies, and spiced it up a couple more levels over the Protein Bar salad, and I can tell you I am quite excited about lunches this week, and looking forward to a few more riffs on Protein Bar offerings. Consider me, re-pumped about cooking up a pot of quinoa!

ImageSpicy Buffalo Quinoa Salad
Serves 7 as a main lunch course
Inspired by Protein Bar

Like all quinoa salads, you can toss in any veggie you have on hand, or your personal favorites. If sweet corn happens to be in season where you are, do add in a couple cooked ears’ worth – it’s super tasty and a nice contrast against the spicy dressing.

1 ½ cups dry quinoa, cooked and chilled
1 batch of GF/DF Buffalo Sauce (note: I increased the amount of cayenne and used about ½ cup of hot sauce) 
2 cups cooked chicken, diced (optional)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 green onions, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
1 cup fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob (or thawed and drained frozen corn
3 carrots, sliced wafer thin
1 handful cilantro, de-stemmed, and roughly chopped
⅓ cup gorgonzola, crumbled
Extra Frank’s Original Hot Sauce, to taste

  1. Cook the quinoa according to the instructions (I make mine in the rice cooker, so am not one to advise on stovetop cooking), then chill completely.
  2. Make Nancy’s vegan buffalo sauce, and set aside. 
  3. Chop all of the veggies and set aside. 
  4. Mince the chicken, and place in a small mixing bowl. Add a few splashes of Frank’s Hot Sauce and toss to lightly coat the chicken, to give the protein a little extra kick. 
  5. Place the quinoa in a large mixing bowl, and break up the quinoa into individual grains with a fork or spatula. Add the black beans, red bell pepper, green onions, celery, sweet corn, cilantro and carrots and gently stir with a rubber spatula to combine. 
  6. Drizzle about half of the buffalo sauce over the salad, and gently stir to coat all of the quinoa. Taste. If you like it a little spicier (as I do), drizzle on the rest of the sauce, and stir again. You may find that you need a little extra kick, so don’t be shy, and shake a little more Frank’s Hot Sauce on there, and stir a bit more. 
  7. Finally, add the crumbled gorgonzola, and fold into the salad just before serving.  This salad also keeps very well in the fridge, and leftovers make a most delicious lunch! As the quinoa salad sits in the fridge, the spice level mutes considerably, so keep a bottle of hot sauce handy to spice it up. 

What are you favorite variations on qunioa salad?  Inspire me!