Recreating a recipe would be so rewarding

I am going to go out on a limb in saying that the best chain restaurant of its kind is California Pizza Kitchen. I ask that you reserve judgement, not only for after the post below but also for after you have had an opportunity to enjoy the creation they put on their menu which I recreated and was inspired to write about.

My fondness of CPK began when I used to eat there as a vegetarian. I used to get soups and pizzas all the time and now hear they have a vegan crust and can omit cheese but no yummy tortilla soup for vegan diners 😦 According to the vegetarian and vegan menu on their website, there is a fair selection of vegan options. Not a lot but enough to enjoy something when you’re in the vicinity of CPK, and enough for variety over several visits. However, it was when I saw their new menu options included one of my favorite food – quinoa in the Quinoa and Arugula Salad – that I knew I could not resist.

I had the salad once in March, I remember it well because of the occasion; I was getting ready to move to my new house and ate it for lunch during a relentless trip to Ikea. I would have licked my fingers, or the plate. The next time I went to CPK was for a gathering with some college friends in November, their choice and my first time there since March. As I sat down and looked over the menu, I was reminded of the amazing flavors of the salad and ordered it without hesitation or cheese. I enjoyed it so much that I took an extra order to go, for David to enjoy of course. He liked it a lot. I was sold.

The salad is a simple combination of explosive flavors. Arugula, asparagus, quinoa, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and red onions. Oh how simple ingredients can dance together when choreographed with a luscious dressing. They call it Champagne Vinaigrette and I cannot seem to figure out whether it is vegan or not when you get it at the restaurant. The website says to remove it on the vegan menu but the allergen table lists nothing that would not be vegan in it. I’ve emailed CPK to inquire and will update once I hear from them.

This past weekend, I was making plans with a friend for lunch and when CPK came up, I immediately knew what I was going to get. And so I enjoyed my favorite Arugula and Quinoa salad. A bottle of wine, shopping and many good conversations later, I was on my way home and stopping for some quick groceries. As I was walking into Trader Joe’s, I knew I could not leave without getting arugula and sun dried tomatoes. I had the other ingredients save the asparagus. Were it not for a sad looking bundle of asparagus priced at $4, I may have added it to my cart. But in hind sight, I’m glad I didn’t.

My Trader Joe’s facilitated Quinoa Arugula Salad went like this:

1/2 of this champagne vinaigrette recipe
1 cup uncooked quinoa with just enough water to cover by an inch
1 red onion, sliced in half moons

1 bag of pre-washed organic Arugula
1/2 bag of sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted

1 large or 2 small avocados, diced

1. Cook quinoa to preference. Always rinse quinoa first and never skip this part. I do this for about 5 rinses. Cover with inch of water and bring to boil. Simmer no more than 20 minutes and drain if water remains.  Fluff with a fork and cover off the flame if it needs a little more cooking.

2. Make the champagne vinaigrette (whisk very well to blend) and soak sliced onions in the mix.

3. While onions are marinating, mix bag of arugula in largest bowl you have. Add sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Toss.

4. In a separate bowl (or pot used to cook 1 cup of quinoa), fluff quinoa again and add the dressing onion mixture to taste. I only added half of the recipe but if you wanted a lot of acidity, you could add the whole recipes amount.

5. Once quinoa is coated with dressing and onions, add to salad and toss very well to mix. If desired/available, add one to two (depending on size) diced avocados on top and enjoy while quinoa is warm! Salad will taste ok after but arugula will wilt and salad will lose it’s overall fresh appeal.20121231_160715This was the fourth lunch size portion left in the bowl, there was not enough time to capture the full bowl!  

Let me know what you think if you try it 🙂