Photograph by John Wilwol
One of the best perks about working at a magazine is the sheer number of diet books that get sent our way (one of the not-so-great perks is having to get rid of all the five-pound political biographies). I'm absolutely fascinated with them; not because I'm any good at going on a diet, but because I find the disparity of advice absolutely hysterical, and there's usually at least one reliable recipe if you ignore calls for non-fat cooking spray, Splenda, and soy products. Here's what I've gleaned from the diet books I've read over the last year: If you cut out carbs, fat, meat, dairy, animal products, fruit, and sugar, and exist on a high-fat, non-fat, vegan, meat-based, exercise-heavy diet of vegetables, you'll manage to not only lose weight but also keep it off. Astonishing.
After a recent office book cull, I picked up a book called 21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart by George Washington University's own Dr. Neal Barnard. Sounds innocuous enough, no? Turns out I had accidentally picked up a manifesto for a plant-based diet, or to use the less-PC term, vegan. I visibly shuddered when I figured this out (a world without cheese is not a world I care to live in), but I read on and found it actually very inspiring. Not that I'll go so far as to cut out anything completely, but it does feel surprisingly good to eat animal-free for a day or too. Just don't go to Shake Shack feeling all virtuous like I did and order the shroom burger, because not only is it an epic waste, it turns out it's even higher in fat than a regular cheeseburger.
Last weekend I played a plant-based version of Let's Clean Out the Fridge, and faced with some mushrooms, a green pepper, and some wilted scallions, I came up with this salad. It's actually delicious and travels really well because the arugula isn't dressed, and it's pretty quick to put together for a not-too-heavy dinner in 90-degree heat. Just don't tell anyone it's vegan or they'll look at you all funny and stop asking you to dinner.
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side
½ cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce container button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Pinch red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped curly parsley
4 cups arugula, not too firmly packed
1 green bell pepper, cored, sliced, and roughly chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Take the rinsed quinoa and place it in a saucepan with the cold water. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes until quinoa is fluffy (most of the water should have evaporated, but if it hasn't, drain any excess). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a medium-low flame and saute the garlic for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and red-pepper flakes and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until they've reduced in size and released some liquid. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.
Place the arugula on plates, or on a serving dish. Combine the quinoa and mushrooms with the remaining ingredients, and serve the mixture on top of the arugula.