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Everything I Want to Eat, in One Salad

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Most nights, I have a staring contest with the refrigerator, the pantry, and the obstinate "Japanese section" of the cupboard (which includes wakame, hijiki, dulse, kombu, and nori). 

I haven't made a dent in the sea vegetable collection—and this salad didn't help with that.


But what it lacked in seaweed it made up for in other ingredients—a lot of other ingredients (nineteen, to be exact).

It seems that my minimalist attitude toward the kitchen has resulted in a laissez-faire, ob la di ob la da, anything goes attitude toward the food that comes out of it: Why not add ricotta and anchovies and a jalapeño and brussels sprouts to the spaghetti? Why not scramble the eggs in garlic confit? Why not eat the leftover apple cake with the leftover pumpkin butter?


Each cooking attempt is a jigsaw puzzle of vegetables and grains I can't stand to look at any longer. See the state of my kitchen shelves the night this salad was born:

  • Bought on a whim at the supermarket for double the reasonable price: tempeh, avocado
  • Bought at the farmers market in an effort to force myself to eat more vegetables: butternut squash
  • Bought off a colleague with an extra jar: smoked paprika 
  • My roommate's tithe: sweet potato
  • Lying around: coriander, cayenne, garlic, lentils, quinoa
  • Made during an ambitious period last winter: vegetable stock
  • Wrapped in plastic wrap, brought to work, and forgot about: one slice of sandwich bread
  • Leftover from making granola in August, then stored in my refrigerator so that they would stay good for all of eternity: pistachios, dried cherries
  • Stolen from my parents' house (they would never use such a large quantity): sesame seeds
  • No idea/miracle: scallions, lemon
  • Not originally in the recipe because I am terrified of mold: ricotta salata

At first—after I had roasted the vegetables and fried the tempeh and toasted the nuts and plumped the cherries and cooked the quinoa and, yes, the lentils, too—I was skeptical that all of these powers would live in harmony.

That's when I put the avocado on top, and circled back—as I always do—to my passion for fashion. When you have limited space and funds, the key is to mix-and-match: Don't buy the statement piece (yes, that fur vest with the hood) if it won't work with 95% of with your wardrobe. You need to get the most lift out of every investment. 

For me, the same holds true for food. (And yes, I should've told myself this as I was carrying home all of the seaweed.) When I focus on ingredients that make sense together and stock my kitchen accordingly, it becomes easy to combine them into a dish that's far from strange and fushion-y. I can avoid adding bok choy to the shakshuka. 

Don't rush out and buy every single ingredient here: As long as you combine something healthy (lentils and quinoa and roasted vegetables); something hearty (tempeh); something fatty (fried bread); something salty (cheese); something creamy (avocado); something seedy (sunflower and sesame seeds); something nutty (pistachios); something tangy (cherries); and something green (scallions?), you're set.

Customize the salad as you see fit; I highly suggest you use this recipe as an excuse to either clean out—or build up—your pantry collection. 

Everything I Want to Eat Lentil and Quinoa Salad

Serves 6 to 8

cup tart dried cherries

tablespoons apple cider vinegar

cup dried brown lentils, rinsed

garlic cloves, divided

cup quinoa, rinsed

small/reasonably-sized sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

small/reasonably-sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

teaspoon ground coriander

teaspoon smoked paprika

teaspoon cayenne

Olive oil, for roasting and seasoning

Salt and pepper, for roasting and seasoning

8-ounce package tempeh, cut in half widthwise, then cut into very thin (1/8-inch) strips

slice stale wheat bread, crumbled into small bits

handful sesame seeds

cup toasted sunflower seeds

cup chopped toasted pistachios

scallions, green parts only, finely chopped

cup crumbled ricotta salata

Freshly squeezed lemon juice, for seasoning (you'll want at least 1 tablespoon)

avocado, cubed

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom