It seems like everyone is talking about quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). The ancient grain (or seed, if we’re being more accurate) has been hailed as one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Regardless of whether or not quinoa is able to beat out other favorites like kale, it does offer balanced protein containing all nine amino acids. But what no one seems to admit is that quinoa is actually pretty bland. Sure, it has a nuttier flavor than some of its cousins (barley, rice, cous cous), but that certainly wasn’t enough to win me over immediately. In my quest for a healthier diet, I developed some recipes that pack a much-needed punch of flavor that convinced me to love quinoa forever.
First, I want to explain a few things about the recipes that follow. I’m a college student, so I’m generally short on time, space, and kitchen supplies. To avoid washing dishes and taking up too many burners on the stove, I often cook my quinoa, scoop it into a bowl, and then cook the vegetables in the same pan before adding the quinoa back in to mix it all together. Doing it this way probably won’t save you much time, but there’s something nice about only having one pot to wash. Especially if you only have one pot.
You’ll need to use about twice as much water as quinoa regardless of the amount you’re cooking. If your quinoa has absorbed all of the water but hasn’t released the white spirals that signal that it’s done, just add some more water and keep cooking until it is done. It’s more likely that you’ll have too little water than too much, but if you do use too much water, just scoop the quinoa out with a slotted spoon or drain with a fine mesh strainer. There are ways to make quinoa delightfully fluffy, such as steaming it at the end of the cooking time, but they take more time and dishes than I’m usually willing to spend at the end of a long day of classes. Even if you cut a few corners like I do, trust me—you’ll be happier to have a nutritious homemade meal that isn’t 100 percent perfect than a pile of dishes or an overpriced take-out option.
As for measurements, just try to picture the ratio of things you’re going to be eating. How many vegetables do you want to eat? How much seasoning do you think you’ll want? Taste everything along the way so that you can make adjustments, and always return to that mental picture of your end goal: a balanced mix of quinoa and other ingredients that you can eat in one serving. Additionally, if you mix up the vegetables you’re using, you can stretch them to last all week. You’ll notice that although the following recipes contain similar ingredients, the flavors are completely different in every one.
So, without further ado, I give you my favorite quinoa recipes. I’ve added vegetables and amped up the flavor with herbs and spices, so next time you’re looking for a meal that’s quick, easy, healthy, and satisfying, try one of these:
1. Pesto Quinoa: This is the easiest recipe on Earth—so easy that you don’t even need to measure. Once the quinoa has finished cooking, add a few tablespoons of pesto to the pot—you’ll want it to be a bright green. Add a handful of halved grape tomatoes, grate some Parmesan on top, and serve with seasoned grilled chicken (which takes about seven minutes on a George Foreman grill). You’ll have all the flavors of a pasta dish in a satisfyingly protein-packed form.
2. Spinach & Quinoa Bake: This recipe was inspired by my love for spanakopita, a Greek turnover made of phyllo dough, spinach, and feta. You could probably turn it into a pretty tasty dip if you replaced the quinoa with something creamy, but that’s a recipe for another article.
- 1 white onion
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 cups frozen spinach
- 1 cup chopped mushrooms
- ½ cup quinoa
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 1 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp butter
- 1 cup feta
- salt and pepper to taste
- chopped scallion for topping
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Cook the quinoa with a chicken bouillon cube. As the quinoa cooks, sauté the onions and mushrooms until they are tender, then add the minced garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, microwave the frozen spinach according to package directions. The most important step is draining the spinach. Once it has finished cooking, place the spinach in a wire mesh strainer and press it with a bowl (quicker than using a spoon or your hands!) until all of the water has been extracted, otherwise your bake will be a soggy pile of veggies. Once the mushrooms, garlic, onions, and quinoa have finished cooking, mix it all together with the spinach and add 1 cup of feta cheese. Stir in the butter and then spread in a baking pan – if you have an 8 x 8 pan, that would probably work best, but honestly any pan will do. Sprinkle a palmful of chopped scallions over the mixture and then pop it in the oven until the cheese has melted (about 15 minutes)
3. Olive Quinoa with Falafel: During some busy weeks, I buy prepackaged falafel at the store. Nonetheless, I try not to eat meals that are solely comprised of pre-made food—in addition to the fact that homemade food is healthier and cheaper than pre-made food, the 20 minutes it takes to whip up a meal gives me the opportunity to put my books aside and do something creative. This particular recipe will deliver quinoa that’s so smoky and tangy that you’ll never tolerate bland quinoa again.
- ¼ white onion
- 2 tbsp olive tapenade
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ cup quinoa
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp paprika
By the third recipe, I’m sure you know the drill—get the quinoa cooking and sauté diced onion in olive oil until it’s translucent. Add the paprika to the onion, let it mingle for a few seconds, and then deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine vinegar before the spices start to burn. Add the quinoa to the pan with onion (take the onion pan off the heat if the quinoa needs more time to cook) and then add the olive tapenade and tomato paste. If you don’t have olive tapenade, substitute a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a handful of sliced olives, preferably green.
4. Quinoa “Pasta” with Fresh Tomato Sauce: I love pasta as much as anyone, but I hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon earlier this year and tried to cut back wherever possible. This recipe offers everything I love about pasta—the flavors, the addition of copious amounts of cheese—with more satisfying vegetables and protein.
- 1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
- ½ cup fresh broccoli
- 3-5 white mushrooms
- 3-5 cherry tomatoes
- ¼ white onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 palmful of mozzarella cheese (AKA to taste)
- Italian seasoning
- Salt and pepper to taste
You guessed it—dice the mushrooms and onion and then sauté them in olive oil until tender. Add minced garlic and spinach, first preparing the spinach by bundling the leaves into a handful and slicing them into strips (you should end up with ribbons of spinach—whole leaves are too slimy when cooked). Season to taste with Italian herbs, salt, and pepper. Cook the quinoa in a separate pan and then add to the vegetables once it has finished cooking. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese, and serve it in a bowl.
Photo by Michelle Delgado
What are your favorite quinoa recipes? Tweet us @litdarling!