A creamy, slightly tart, slightly sweet Lemon Shallot Quinoa with Cucumbers and Tomatoes side dish is perfect for busy night dinners.
With the school year trotting towards its conclusion, we’re reaching a time when it seems like every spare moment is spoken for. Art shows, concerts, showcases, open houses … there’s a lot happening at my kids’ schools. Meanwhile, the weather is finally inching toward something that might be considered “spring-like,” and that makes me want to spend as much time as we can outside. And there’s still extracurriculars too, and my own work and personal responsibilities.
Of course, there’s dinner to contend with as well. There always is. No matter how busy we are with other commitments, dinner is always a must, and preferably one we enjoy together as a family. It’s just how it is in our house. (Side note: If you haven’t read the New York Times story “Where’s the Magic in Family Dinner?” I highly recommend it — it’s an interesting look by a psychologist into what really makes family dinners valuable).
So how do you both attend to all the commitments and still have family dinners? The key is to opt for fast-cooking dinners — ones that taste impressive but don’t take a lot of time to prepare.
Tips for Faster Dinners:
- Use grains that cook fast. Quinoa is ready in about 25 minutes. Other grains — not just rice, but farro, barley and more — can be purchased parcooked, meaning they are also partially cooked and will be ready in a fraction of the time they normally cook in (often 10-15 minutes). Some grains, like farro, millet, wheat barley, quinoa and even brown rice, can be made ahead and frozen as well.
- Try side dishes that incorporate raw vegetables. From veggie platters to side dishes like the one featured here (Lemon Shallot Quinoa with Cucumbers and Tomatoes), using raw vegetables allows you to both ensure that your family is getting their 5-a-day and also slice off preparation time since there’s no cooking necessary.
- Work together. Nothing speeds up dinner preparation like getting everyone involved. Younger kids can set the table. Kids in elementary school and beyond can help peel and slice veggies, make salads and more. Teenagers can help with the whole process. Plus, it doubles as great family time too.
- Convenience is okay. These days, there are some really great, fresh options for convenience foods that can help speed up dinner prep times. Look for good, wholesome main dishes that you can just heat and serve alongside homemade side dishes.
What are your best strategies for getting dinner on the table fast?
Speaking of convenience foods, I recently found a seafood option that tastes great, cooks fast and requires little prep time.
Recently, I was introduced to the Bumble Bee SuperFresh® line of seafood dishes. These well-seasoned, restaurant-quality frozen seafood dishes come ready to cook. We’re talking freezer to oven to table salmon dishes, ready in 25 minutes or less, fish cooked in parchment (provided in the package) for no-mess prep, and a sushi-grade tuna that needs only to be defrosted before serving.
What I especially liked about these fish dishes is how fresh it tasted when cooked — no fishy smells or flavors here, likely thanks to the freezer to oven preparation. Plus, since it’s not drowned in breading or sauces, you can actually taste the salmon. (The fact that these are lean, tasty proteans is a huge bonus too.)
I sampled the Bumble Bee SuperFresh® Salmon with Garlicky Black Pepper & Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which cooks in its own parchment included in the package, is a tender, peppery salmon that cooks perfectly and feeels like something fancy. You can almost forget its super easy and fast, and from the frozen aisle.
For dinner — or even lunch — this is a great option.
To serve with this, I whipped up an easy quinoa dish. Quinoa, which is considered a grain but is really a seed, not only cooks fast but it takes on other flavors really well making it super flexible for a side dish.
For this, I made a vinaigrette featuring lemon, shallots, honey and dijon mustard. Then that’s mixed with the quinoa, cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley. Seasoned with a little salt and pepper, this flavorful dish is quick and easy, but big on flavor.
And bonus: this is great hot or cold — so you can also make it ahead to serve it later. I prefer it warm with the salmon, but sometimes a cool side dish is just right.
- 1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cucumber, small diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- Combine the quinoa and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the minced shallot, mustard, honey, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings as desired.
- Add the cooked quinoa to the large mixing bowl and toss well to combine.
- Add the cucumber, tomato and parsley and toss well to combine. Taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. Enjoy.
Psst: Want to try the dish? You can find Bumble Bee SuperFresh® in the frozen seafood section, typically near the seafood counter, at your local grocery store.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of four cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to a tween and a teen, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.