April is Stress Awareness Month, and this gluten-free walnut pesto quinoa salad is here to help boost your mood and reduce heightened stress levels. In addition to helping combat stress, this recipe is also filled with crisp seasonal spring produce, like asparagus, cremini mushrooms, and sweet onions. It’s packed with plant-based protein sources, like quinoa and chickpeas. To top it off, it’s tossed in a bright, herby, and lightened-up walnut arugula pesto.
Walnuts are a key component of this pesto sauce. As the nut with the highest omega-3 fatty acid content, walnuts provide numerous health benefits. They are linked to fighting oxidative stress in the body and reducing inflammation through their antioxidant properties, and they are an excellent source of alpha-linoleic acid — a polyunsaturated fat and precursor involved in the synthesis of serotonin. With the ability to help reduce the risk of depression and improve overall mood and cognitive function, walnuts are one powerful nut!
Another key ingredient in this pesto sauce is the dark leafy green, arugula. Arugula is rich in micronutrients, such as beta-carotene, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. Magnesium is a must-have micronutrient due to its effect on reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
The next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, consider eating a serving of raw walnuts, making a salad with baby arugula, or adding them both to a pesto sauce, like in this gluten-free walnut pesto quinoa salad. It can be enjoyed as a filling, protein-packed, vegetarian lunch or dinner or used as a side dish paired with a meat-based protein, like grilled chicken or salmon.
*You’ll need a food processor or blender for this recipe.
- For the roasted vegetables & chickpeas:
- 1 bunch of asparagus (about 20 spears), trimmed into 1” pieces
- 1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
- 1 package whole cremini mushrooms (about 10), sliced in ¼” pieces
- 1 15 oz. can chickpeas (no salt added), drained & rinsed
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Salt & pepper to taste
- For the quinoa:
- ½ cup dry quinoa, thoroughly rinsed
- 1 cup water
- For the pesto:
- ¼ cup raw walnuts, lightly toasted
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup arugula
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 lemon, juiced (½ added to pesto, ½ reserved for topping)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2-3 Tbsp water
- Preheat the oven to 415°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and prepare asparagus, onion, and mushrooms. Place chopped veggies and chickpeas onto the baking sheet, season with garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper (to taste) and drizzle with olive oil.
- Mix veggies and chickpeas by hand to ensure oil and seasonings are evenly distributed. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and tender.
- While the veggies and chickpeas are roasting, bring rinsed quinoa and 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium pot.
- Cover with a lid, reduce heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes until water is absorbed and quinoa is light and fluffy.
- Next, make the pesto. Add toasted walnuts, grated Parmesan, arugula, fresh basil, garlic, half of a juiced lemon, salt, and olive oil to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding one tablespoon of water at a time until pesto has reached desired consistency. It will be on the thicker side.
- Once veggies and quinoa are done, add them to a large mixing bowl and combine with the pesto.
- Serve warm or cold with an extra squeeze of fresh lemon juice and enjoy!
For more pesto recipes to help you “spring into wellness”, check out:
- This vegetarian Pesto Rainbow Pasta with Roasted Vegetables
- Or this Lamb And Sausage Orzo With Minty Pesto And Grilled Artichoke Hearts — featuring artichokes as another seasonal spring ingredient
Kristen Stapleton, Dietetic Intern
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