A bright and creamy yogurt avocado dressing pulls together this quinoa salad dotted with bits of bell pepper and served on a bed of fresh spinach.
Let’s talk about lunch.
Back in grade school I started avoiding school lunch. I disliked standing in the line with my red paper ticket purchased that morning from a lady in a hairnet positioned behind a card table with a roll of red carnival tickets and a black metal box handing out rides on the lunch line express in exchange for your white envelope of cash or a check from your mother.
Later the same woman was seated by the very same card table, accepting those tickets and letting you pass through to the lunch counter where a world of mystery food waited, mystery food that I could never quite wrap my head around.
There were foot long hot dogs with a piece of bread twisted around them that smelled of old bathwater. The side of the bread next to the hot dog was always soggy and wet; I was once ridiculed for removing the bread portion from one such long dog roll-up. Pieces of Texas toast were slathered in garlic butter and topped with cheese, served with a side of thin tomato sauce; Italian Dunkers were a surefire way to avoid being kissed on the playground by overly eager schoolboys.
The final straw, however, the breaking point of my school lunch career, came when I was in second grade. The salad bar had come to the lunch line. The salad bar was a far superior form of feeding one’s self if not for the fact that it was housed on a separate cart away from the disapproving glares of the white-coated ladies, but that it harbored recognizable food. Green lettuces, carrots and cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, sliced deli meats, sunflower seeds, and a full line of dressings with tiny maroon-handled ladles waited for you on the salad bar.
Eagerly I loaded up my pastel-colored tray, first with lettuce and eggs, then with sunflower seeds. A few carrots made their way to one of the sectioned cups, and then I was standing in front of the bacon bits. A white plastic bucket of bacon bits sat at the end of the row, bits that still looked like actual bacon and not those hard red orbs of crunch that came later, but there was not a spoon in sight. Tiny tan tongs and spoons were all occupied and covered in residue from the other salad bar selections, so my 7-year-old hand reached out and dipped into the bucket.
My fingers found little pieces of crisp meat and wrapped around them, slowly pulling them out, hovering over my tray, and then releasing: red and white bits sprinkling over my bed of green. Suddenly a lunch lady appeared from nowhere, the very same who doled out red ride tickets like they were amusement park passes, a permanent scowl on her face. She grabbed my wrist as she chastised me for using my hand, causing me to drop my tray, the lettuce and bacon bits crashing downward, then spitting upward as the blue plastic bounced back and forth on the hard tile floor. My face as red as the ticket I used to gain access to the lunch line express, I ran from the room in tears.
I never bought elementary school lunch again.
I first shared this salad on Instagram and also the Food for My Family Facebook page where I have again started documenting the kids’ school lunches that I pack for them so they can avoid terrible lunch line experiences (kidding, kidding). I hope for the album to become a resource to grab ideas for school lunches for yourself or your kids if you want to follow along. I promptly had requests to share the dressing recipe, which seemed like reason enough to recreate it a few more times.
The lemon juice in the avocado dressing helps to counteract browning for short periods of time, say, from packing your lunch in the morning to afternoon consumption. Even the residue that came home after the kids had consumed these and then repacked the container in their lunchbox stayed a nice green color. So, while this dressing can be made a few hours before, I wouldn’t plan on keeping it around for a few days just to avoid oxidation and discoloration of the avocados.
Lemons and tangy yogurt brighten up the avocado, making it smooth and suitable for scooping over salads. If you want a more traditional poured dressing, simply add a bit of water to the mix, blending it in until smooth. Regardless of how you prefer your dressing, this salad is one to enjoy on warm days when the sunshine seems to penetrate through walls and warm the floor you’re standing on. It is a salad that can even chase away silly childhood memories of school lunch and bring the sun itself.
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1/4 cup diced orange bell peppers
1/4 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons thinly sliced red onions
1 cup creamy avocado yogurt dressing, below
Savory Parmesan granola
Thoroughly rinse the quinoa under cold water for 2 minutes and drain. Heat the avocado oil to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute to toast.
Pour in 2 cups of water and the salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let the quinoa stand for 5 minutes. Drizzle in the apple cider vinegar and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool in the refrigerator until chilled through.
Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl. Top with the chilled quinoa, bell peppers, tomatoes, and the red onions. Spoon the avocado dressing over the top. Toss, sprinkle with Parmesan granola, and serve.
Makes 2-3 servings.
1/4 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
3 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 scallion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Cracked black pepper
Smash the avocado until smooth. Stir in the yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, scallion, and the garlic. You can add a few tablespoons of water to achieve a thinner consistency, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
Makes 1 cup dressing.