I first became interested in quinoa a couple of months after switching to mostly meatless meals. Since I didn’t have a lot of recipes for meatless meals and I wasn’t knowledgeable about creating these meals, one of the first recipes that I developed and relied upon was a simple rice and vegetable dish where I’d mix about 4 cups of cooked rice with different vegetables. I tried to use different vegetables so that I wasn’t eating the same thing over and over. I tried sautéing different combinations of fresh vegetables, including peppers, spinach, zucchini, and carrots, and I also made use of the different bags of frozen vegetable combinations that are available, from stir-fry mixes or blends of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. I’d steam the frozen veggies and then add them to the cooked rice.
While these combinations are good, they did get repetitious after a few weeks; even adding different spices or sauces, such as soy sauce or spicy orange sauce, got a bit boring. I’d heard of quinoa, but I’d never tried it; after doing some basic internet research and finding out that many sites lauded its health benefits and applauded its versatility and tastiness, I decided to try it. Quinoa is a grain that is chock-full of good stuff; if you’re interested in learning more, two sites that I’d recommend are Simply Quinoa’s “Quinoa Nutrition Facts” (http://www.simplyquinoa.com/quinoa-nutrition-facts/) and Eating Well’s “5 Facts About Quinoa Nutrition and Cooking Quinoa” (http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_techniques/5_facts_about_quinoa_nutrition_and_cooking_quinoa). Both sites offer some useful information, especially for those who are basically unfamiliar with it, as I was. Now that I know more about it, I actually prefer it over rice due to its taste, texture, and nutritional benefits.
While there are several varieties, including white, red, and black, I decided to first try the white since it seemed the most basic. I’ve also tried the red, and I find both to be tasty. I really don’t see much difference between the two varieties, although the red is reportedly preferable for cold salads, according to The Whole Grain Council ( http://wholegrainscouncil.org/node/5881/print), since it holds its shape a little better than the white after cooking. I haven’t ventured into the area of cold salads yet, but, when I do, I’m guessing I’ll take their advice and use the red. 🙂
My first uses of quinoa were simply to substitute the cooked quinoa for rice, as with my rice and veggie dishes. I’ve found that quinoa is a bit heartier and more satisfying than rice, and it also has a more unique “mouth feel” since it is more dense. While I enjoyed having quinoa and vegetables, I found myself wanting something more, so I attempted to use a mixture of cooked quinoa, spinach, and cheese to create vegetable patties that I could cook up in a skillet. These didn’t hold together very well and probably would have been more successful if I’d added an egg to bind the mixture together better, but I found that simply combining certain ingredients in a skillet produced a tasty, satisfying dish not unlike a stove-top casserole. The recipe that I came up with only requires a few ingredients and minimal cooking skills and makes a tasty, satisfying dish that is also filling. An added bonus is that the leftovers reheat well in the microwave, whether you need a hearty lunch for the next day or want to use it as a side dish with a different meal. As always, you might try substituting other vegetables or cheeses to make the dish your own or to include ingredients that you prefer. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have. Happy eating!
Toasted Quinoa Skillet with Spinach and Feta
- 2 cups of cooked quinoa (white or red work well)
- 1 16-ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained (squeeze out most of the excess moisture; it will dry a bit more in the skillet)
- 1-2 cups crumbled feta cheese
- garlic salt and pepper, to taste
- 1-2 Tablespoons of Canola oil
- Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Quinoa cooks similarly to rice, in a 2-1 ratio with water, so to make 2 cups of cooked, you’d use 1 cup of uncooked quinoa and 2 cups of water. I’ve found that adding about 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt and about 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper to the water as it cooks makes the quinoa tastier, but you can always adjust the spices to your preferences and tastes. The quinoa can be cooked ahead of time, even the day before, to make assembling the skillet even faster.
- Heat about 1-2 Tablespoons of Canola oil in a big skillet over medium heat. Using a larger skillet enables you to spread the quinoa around and toast it more evenly and quickly; I prefer to use a 12″ skillet for maximum toasting.
- After the oil is hot, add the quinoa and spread evenly. Toast it for anywhere from 3-5 minutes, depending upon how toasty you like it. Just make sure to watch the heat and to stir it around a few times to prevent burning and to toast it evenly.
- Add the spinach and some additional garlic salt and pepper, if desired. Other spices, such as turmeric, also work well, so use whatever you prefer. Stir the mixture for 1-3 minutes, until the spinach is hot.
- Add the feta and stir until it is melted. If you like a lot of feta, sprinkle more on top after plating the dish. I usually add more since I love feta.
This recipe makes about 2-4 servings, depending on portion size. I usually get 2 meals and a small lunch from it, and I sometimes add black olives after plating since they always go well with spinach and feta.