Quinoa. It’s Not Just For Birdseed Anymore!
In my last blog, Healthy Snacks and Mind Games, I talked about some of my favorite snacks and gave a few suggestions on how I keep my head in the right place, when it comes to diet. I’ve said it many times before, I’m not a guru. I’m just your average girl telling you some things that work for me. I’m gonna stick with the healthy choices theme in this post. I feel like I have to make up for Christmas Crack and the Slutty Brownies that I posted in December. Those were so baaaad but sooooo good! We just can’t eat things like that all the time. We have to be sensible. Moderation in all things. Today…we moderate.
First you should know, I have a stressful job. It’s not manual labor but it can be mentally and even emotionally draining, at times. Although I enjoy cooking, coming home from work and then slaving in the kitchen for 2 hours is not going to happen. However, I can’t order pizza or eat a bowl of cereal every night….although both of those things have been known to happen on particularly taxing days. My week night supper requirements are simple. I need it to be healthy, require very little prep and even less clean up. I used to eat a lot of brown rice. Chicken or salmon and brown rice with a salad. Sometimes I’d throw the chicken in the oven myself. Sometimes, I’d stop for rotisserie chicken at the beginning of the week, break it down into portions and put it with different things the rest of the week.
This past year I made a new discovery ….quinoa. Quin-wah??? Do not snarl your lip up! I know what you are thinking. But let me explain! Wait! Don’t stop reading! Come back! Can we talk about quinoa? So, for my southern friends, it’s not pronounce Kwin-no-ah. It’s pronounced keen-wah. It’s not kooky or freaky. It’s just a grain. Pretty much God’s gift to grains. It’s as easy to make as minute rice. And for real, I like the taste better than brown or white rice. I really, really do! Quinoa is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. I have found that it can be used in most recipes that call for rice and some that call for pasta. It is far more flavorful, though, when you taste it alone. But, it takes on the flavors of whatever spices you cook with it. For 1/4 cup dry, it has 172 calories, 2.8g fat, 0 trans fat, 6g protein. It fluffs up when you cook it and has that whole grain ability to fill you up. Raw it looks like this…
Okay…go ahead. Gimme the jokes. I now you’ve got ’em. I know it looks like birdseed. But really, I wonder why have we not been eating birdseed all this time?! It is so versatile, easy, healthy and tasty. The first time I remember eating it, was several years ago at a restaurant in Little Rock. They had put it in a mixed greens salad with steak, and a balsamic dressing. Ok..really my first thought was….this is weird. But it was so good. I only started making this at home last year. I was a little intimidated by it, at first, but it is a snap. Don’t be nervous. I’m gonna walk you through it. This is chicken quinoa with zucchini, grape tomatoes, broccoli and wilted spinach. But you can add any veggie you like to this. I love to add mushrooms too, but I didn’t have any on hand. Here’s what I used this time:
First in a saucepan that has a lid, put a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil. You could use vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil or whatever your oil of choice may be. I am using this Wildtree Organic Coconut Oil.
I got this last year, when I was on my quest to try new things. You can read about some of the things I tried here. Remember, back in the olden days, when ladies had Tupperware parties? Well, the new-fangled version of this is virtual parties via Facebook. The hostess, who wants free or discounted stuff for throwing the party, creates a Facebook event and invites everyone that she wants to attend. At a specific time, everyone logs onto Facebook and goes to the event page. There’s a representative from the company, who has a video or perhaps a written schpeal about the product, that they post on the event page. The party guests then ask questions and place orders via inbox or commenting on the page. As I type this, it sounds impersonal and way less fun than having a little social gathering…but really…it was AWESOME. First, I hate going to parties like this. I feel obliged to go because my friend invited me. Then, I feel pressured to order something because she’s my friend and she made snacks. With this kind of virtual 21st century party, I felt no pressure to order, because my sweet friend didn’t make snacks or have to clean her house. She didn’t even have to get dressed and NEITHER DID I! I’d heard of Wildtree and had been wanting to try some of their products. They have lots of neat spices and combinations, all natural and organic. I was so glad that she included me because I found a couple of products that I really love. This was one of those products, along with the Wildtree roasted garlic grapeseed oil. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Whoa…totally derailed by the Wildtree products. Back to the quinoa recipe. To the coconut oil, add about a tablespoon of minced garlic. This is a weeknight recipe. Remember? Who has time or inclination to mince garlic? And if you did have time, do you really always have fresh garlic on hand? So, I give you permission to cheat.
No judgment. Get the Food Network snobs out of your head. It’s a weeknight dinner, not Iron Chef. It is easy, doesn’t make your fingers stink and keeps in the refrigerator without growing fur in your produce drawer. Add to this, about 1/8 of a teaspoon of crushed red peppers…or more if you want to really spice it up. Let the garlic and pepper cook in the oil, on medium heat, for just a minute or two. Don’t let the garlic brown. Then put in about a half of a diced onion. I have been known to use dried onions in this when I don’t have an onion. No biggie. Do with what ya got! Can’t mess this up. I happened to have a for real onion…this time. Cook this on medium heat until the onion is translucent. Then, the secret ingredient. Another small cheat.
Bouillon cubes are a staple in my pantry. When I don’t have chicken or beef broth or stock, I use this. It adds a ton of flavor. I put about 4 of these in two cups of water and pop it in the microwave while my onions and garlic are cooking. When the cube are melted, I stir it into the onions and garlic and then stir in one cup of quinoa. Bring this to a boil. Then, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. If you weren’t going to add any vegetables, you would cook this until all the liquid was absorbed; about 15 minutes. Honestly, you wouldn’t have to add vegetables. Many nights I eat it just like this. Tasty! But if you want veggies, what you will do is keep an eye on it and when most but not all of the liquid is absorbed, throw in the tomatoes, zucchini and broccoli or whatever combo you like.
I sliced the zucchini and then halved the slices. I used grape tomatoes and I sliced those in half, as well. I just used a few broccoli florets because broccoli isn’t my favorite…but I’m trying to do better. I tossed the veggies around a bit, put the lid back on and cooked until the rest of the liquid is absorbed. Then, I turned off the burner and threw in a couple of handfuls of spinach on top, gave it a little toss and put the lid back on. You are going to let that sit on the stove until the spinach is wilted. You can stir a time or two as it wilts, but try to keep the lid on as much as possible. When it’s wilted, take a fork and give it all a toss. When the quinoa is done, the grain appears soft and translucent.
Again, you could pop this in a bowl and have a great dinner and call it a night. But while the quinoa was cooking, I baked a chicken breast. I used the Wildtree roasted garlic grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil is rich in cholesterol-lowering polyunsaturated fats and has several other health benefits. But mostly, this roasted garlic flavor is delicious. I put the chicken in the pan and rubbed the grapeseed oil on it, added some seasoning salt, sliced some onions and because zucchini is my favorite and I had some left from the quinoa, I tossed that in with the chicken for good measure. Then, I hit it all again with some of the grapeseed oil.
I tucked all this away in a 375 degree oven and baked it until the chicken was tender and juices ran clear….you know…until it was done! This was really not about the chicken. This is totally about the quinoa. So here is another close up of our star.
I really do hope that you will give quinoa a chance. Don’t just mark it off as birdseed. It is easy and delicious and completely under utilized. If you have a great quinoa recipe, I would LOVE to hear it. Share it with us in the comments. I always love hearing what you all have to say. Like The Skirt Girl on Facebook and you can share ideas there also. It’s a great place to get news and tidbits and extras.
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