Quinoa 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.
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.