I have read countless articles and blog posts in the past few years expounding the marvels of quinoa. It’s been touted as the new super food. A wonder grain. A nutritional powerhouse. At first I was skeptical and wrinkled my nose at the thought of it. Can anything really live up to those kind of standards? It turns out it can. Quinoa is low GI, high in fiber, gluten-free and packed with iron and vitamins B and E. It contains all eight essential amino acids along with lysine (which very few grains have), making it a complete protein source. For a vegetarian (or anyone interested in healthy eating) that fact is kind of like winning the lottery. Oh and it’s extremely versatile. I have had it in soup, salads, patties/burgers, for breakfast and even in muffins. If you are trying it for the first time the texture may seem a bit odd and I have to admit that it did take me a while to get used to (and appreciate) it’s uniqueness. On the plus side it readily takes on the flavour of whatever it is cooked in (be that stock, fruit juice, milk…the options are virtually endless) so it rarely fails in the taste department.
My current favourite quinoa-based meal is this ‘bake’. I used to be – and still am at times – a sucker for pasta bake. Put a plate of the stuff, with a melty-cheesy inside and a crunchy topping, in front of me and I will never fail to eat the lot. It’s virtually irresistible. My sister is even worse. I’m actually surprised she hasn’t transformed into a walking talking slab of macaroni cheese, so to get her tick of approval for this dish was really something. However the even better news is how much healthier it is. There is no way you can feel guilty going back for seconds. Or thirds.
The quinoa is cooked in veggie stock and thus takes on a lovely salty flavour that contrasts well with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, leek and pumpkin. Mushrooms are a must for me in pretty much any dish (I went through a stage of eating them for lunch every day. Am I obsessed? Maybe.) And I think they work particularly well in this, though I may be biased. You can substitute them for something else if you prefer and the same goes for the zucchini. Almost any bits and bobs of veg will do. The cheese is still there but in surprisingly little quantities as the quinoa and veg already pack a punch of flavour. Its main role is to bind it all together and create that crusty topping. It would be blasphemy to not have a crusty topping.
The bake is also super colourful – I can’t help but smile when eating it. It’s almost as though you can see the goodness.
Right, I think I should shut up now. I don’t want to start sounding as though I’m trying to sell you the darn thing. If you’re anything like me then that’s a sure-fire way to put you off trying it, which is the exact opposite of what I want!
Quinoa Veggie Bake
Serves 2 – 3.
½ cup quinoa, rinsed
1 ¼ cups vegetable stock
2 tsp butter, plus extra for greasing
100g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
100g leek, white part only, thinly sliced
50g button mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced
50g zucchini, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Large handful baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
Pinch dried chilli flakes
Large pinch paprika
Salt and pepper
25g Gouda or Mozzarella cheese, finely grated
20g Parmesan, finely grated
Preheat oven to 200C. Grease a 500ml capacity baking dish.
Tip the quinoa and stock into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes or until tender. Most of the liquid should have been absorbed. Stir at regular intervals to prevent sticking. Once cooked, transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, steam the pumpkin for five minutes or until just tender. Drain, refresh with cold water and add to the bowl of quinoa.
Melt the butter in a small frying pan over a very low heat. Cook the leeks for two minutes or until beginning to softened but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and cook for another eight minutes or until most of the moisture released from the mushrooms has evaporated.
Transfer to the bowl of quinoa along with the cherry tomatoes, spinach, basil, gouda/mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Whisk the egg with the chilli flakes and paprika and season well with salt and pepper. Pour over the veggie/quinoa mix and use a spatula to gently combine.
Spoon into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining parmesan, along with an extra grind of salt and pepper. Bake for approximately fifteen minutes or until golden brown on top.
Serve warm or cold, either on it’s own or with a salad and crusty bread.
Source: A Taste Without Waste original.