Harvest Kale and Brown Rice Salad

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Covid-19 is more than just the name of a virus. It’s a testament to how much weight I’ve gained (and then some) since the pandemic triggered lockdowns from here to high heaven. I don’t do well being locked in the house. I need to roam free and live my life. It’s all the roaming I do that kept my girlish figure in check. I’m a big girl, so I like to keep things contained as much as possible, and being out and about did that for me.

Sure I could’ve walked around my neighborhood for exercise, but who wants to do that? Evidently, not me. I’d rather walk up and down the aisles of Target, Costco, or Harris Teeter for exercise. And sometimes I’d even take my chances at Wal-Mart if I could get there early enough to avoid all the craziness.

Lack of free-range exercise wasn’t the only reason I have packed on pounds during the pandemic. Television ruined me too! Again, how was I supposed to walk around my neighborhood when there were two seasons of All American, two seasons of that fine Luke Cage, a bunch of terrible movies on Nextflix, and six seasons of The 100 for me to discover. I was definitely not an enemy of Wonkru! I couldn’t get enough of that stuff. I’ve watched more television in the last seven months than I’ve watched in the last seven years! Maybe even seventeen years!

Then there was the copious amount of wine I consumed, which also contributed to the Covid-19 plus some that I gained. A sistah was stressed, and when I did venture out to the stores that remained open, I stocked up on adult beverages. I filled my buggy with varieties of white and red wine, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, cookies, gelato, Cap’n Crunch, Doritos, and spring mix. Why spring mix? Your guess is as good as mine! Maybe I got it to use up the ranch dressing packets that were piling up in my refrigerator from all the Papa Johns and Buffalo Wild Wings delivered to the house via Door Dash.

I know. I should be ashamed of myself. All I can say is corona made me do it.

Fast forward six months, life was slowly but surely getting back to a new normal. By this time, I was ready to get back into the TV/Zoom cooking game. I shot a practice video, and to my horror, some woman who looked like me but bigger (a lot bigger) was whipping up my famous recipe for garlic mashed potatoes. Upon further inspection, I realized that the woman was me! I have always rocked a girlish figure, but what I saw was out of control.

Damn you, coronavirus!

I immediately joined a weight-loss program that evaluated my nutritional needs and developed a program specifically for me. Then I walked out of my front door and took a tour around my neighborhood. Unfortunately, it was still boring, but I was on a mission. I volunteered a few of my friends to walk with me around their neighborhoods, so we could walk and talk, and I could have a change of scenery.

So far so good.

It’s been five weeks since I got back on track, and I’ve already lost 14 pounds! I’m paying closer attention to what I eat, and I’m healthier for it. One of my favorite dishes is this brown rice salad I developed that tastes so good. It’s delicious, filling, and nutritious. I keep a batch in the refrigerator as my go-to lunch. This rice salad has a ton of flavors and different textures that keep it interesting. Even my husband likes it, and he’s suspicious of anything that has dried fruit and seeds in it.

As restrictions are being lifted, I am freer to roam the aisles of my favorite stores. Now I fill my buggy with fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. I still throw in paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, but I by-pass the gelato. Wine is no longer of importance to me, especially since I discovered that vodka and bourbon. Modified whisky sours and vodka tonics have been life-changing for me, and they don’t make me fatter.

Don’t judge… Times are tough, and a sistah is still stressed.

Let me know when you make this recipe. Take a picture and hashtag it #QUEENCITYKITCHEN. I can’t wait to see what you post!

Harvest Kale and Brown Rice Salad
Makes 8 servings

4 cups (½ to ¾-inch-diced) butternut squash (1½ pounds)
2 cups roughly chopped broccoli florets
2 tablespoons plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, divided
Kosher salt
Coarse-ground black pepper
1½ cups brown jasmine rice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 cups chopped baby kale
4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted pepitas

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the butternut squash on a baking pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss the squash to coat. Spread the squash out in a single layer on the baking pan and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss the squash.

Meanwhile, toss the broccoli in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil until coated. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Push the squash to one side of the baking sheet and spread the broccoli out on the second half in an even layer. Bake the vegetables until the squash is soft and cooked through and the broccoli is roasted, about 15 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven.

While the vegetables are in the oven, make the rice. Combine the rice, 3¼ cups water, and 1½ teaspoons salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer the rice for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to sit with the lid on for 10 minutes. If there is liquid left in the pot, drain the rice.

For the vinaigrette, whisk the remaining 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, the orange juice, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a glass measuring cup. Slowly whisk in ½ cup olive oil and set aside.

Transfer the warm rice to a large serving bowl. Add 2/3 of the vinaigrette and combine. Add the squash, broccoli, kale, scallions, dried cranberries, and pepitas; toss well. Add the remaining vinaigrette if the salad appears dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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