Mexican-Inspired Quinoa Casserole

quinoaQuinoa is one of those slightly mysterious ingredients that nonetheless is becoming a staple in America’s kitchens. Hailing from its native Peru, quinoa’s tiny seed is packed with complete protein, anti-oxidants, fiber, anti-inflamatory agents, a whole range of essential enzymes, while still gluten and fat free. The grain, or seed, rinsed first to extract the bitter-tasting film it naturally secretes – then toasted dry and finally cooked until it corkscrews like a miniature fiddlehead – has a nutty, cereal-like flavor that becomes a canvas for anything from spicy hot peppers to sweet strawberries and everything in between. This dish borrows flavors from another South American country – Mexico. You don’t need much quinoa – here a scant half-cup, loaded with beans and corn and other ingredients, is transformed into a hearty dish that will fill the bellies of six to eight diners. Feeding the multitudes you might say. Danielle demoed this as part of a class at Brookside and another at US Botanic Garden in February 2015 when our topic was “hearty casseroles.” What a great turnout on a couple of very cold days.

½ C quinoa, cooked in 1 C vegetable broth or water (see below)
1 ½ C frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1 T olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 C frozen corn
5-6 scallions, trimmed and sliced, white and green parts
½ C salsa – your favorite brand, mild, medium or hot
1 ½ T chili powder or chili seasoning
2 t oregano (Mexican preferred)
1 T fresh lime juice
1 ½ C shredded Mexican cheese blend, Fiesta blend or Cheddar – divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. When the quinoa is cooked, transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Put the hash browns in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the hash browns to the bowl with the quinoa.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the diced bell peppers. Sauté until tender crisp, about 3 minutes. Add them into the bowl, along with the black beans, corn, sliced scallions, salsa, chili powder and oregano. Mix well, add the lime juice and ¾ cup of the shredded cheese. Mix well again. Transfer the mixture to an 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover with (non-stick) aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes, until cheese has melted. Serves 6.

Cooking Quinoa

For the best flavor and fluffiest texture, dry-toast the quinoa before adding the water: rinse the quinoa according to the package directions, then put it in a medium pot without oil or butter. Let the grains dry out a bit and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the water, bring to a boil and cover with a lid. Simmer  10-15 minutes-do not stir the quinoa while it is cooking. This will allow it to cook evenly and steam holes to form. The quinoa is cooked when you see the grains form a little white spiral tail. This is the outer germ of the grain that twists as it cooks, but stays attached to the kernel.

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