Quinoa risotto

If quinoa isn’t already a part of your diet, I highly recommend giving it a try!  Yes, it looks a little weird — but once you get past its appearance, you will discover a delicious and incredibly healthful ingredient.

It can usually be found in your grocery store with rice and other grains, and it is eaten much the same way — though quinoa isn’t actually a grain, but rather the seed of a leafy plant.  As a member of the Chenopodioideae family, spinach and beets are close relatives.  It is native to South America and has been a very important component of Andean diets for centuries.

Quinoa is one of those rare plant sources of a complete protein, which makes it ideal for vegetarian diets.  It is a great replacement for rice in almost any dish — I actually prefer it in some recipes, such as chili.  It also cooks super fast, making it a fast, fool-proof weeknight dish.

You can find several different kinds — I got this awesome fair trade black variety for Christmas, and it stays nice and crunchy after cooking.  But regular old quinoa is also good too.

When cooking quinoa, for best results, always rinse the seeds in cold water first, and always use stock instead of water as your primary cooking liquid.  Toasting the seeds in a dry skillet prior to cooking is also a nice option.

To cook them, just combine one part quinoa to two parts stock, bring to a boil, and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

As mentioned above, you can use quinoa as a healthy, quick-cooking replacement for rice in many dishes.  But here is one recipe that really highlights the nutty, crunchy, delicious flavor of quinoa!

Quinoa “risotto”

This does not have the same creamy, thick texture that can only be achieved by arborio rice — hence the quotation marks — but it is still pretty darn delicious, and MUCH easier!

Choose whichever vegetable mix-ins you like.  Always start with some alliums, such as onion, leek, or garlic, and go from there.  I had some onion and garlic on hand.

I also love these little beech mushrooms I find at the store occasionally, and think they look so cute in risotto dishes!  When I saw them this week, I knew what I was making…

A handful of chopped tomatoes are also good — you don’t want them to overpower with their acidity, but they do add nice flavor.  This time of year, cherry and grape varieties are the only available tomatoes with any semblance of flavor, so just grab a half cup or so of those — you can halve them or keep them whole.

My final favorite ingredient to add to this dish is a bit of chopped spinach — I always keep a bag of frozen spinach on hand and toss some in.  Unfortunately, I was running low so I think I only had about a quarter cup left to add, but a half to a whole cup would be more ideal.  There really aren’t any rules…

Anyway.  On to the method.

Start the quinoa.  Check the package directions if they exist, but generally, as mentioned above, you just combine 1 part quinoa with two parts liquid (use stock!), bring to a boil, and simmer about 15 minutes.

(I don’t think you can really screw quinoa up as is so easy to do with rice.  Before I realized black quinoa is supposed to be crunchy, I kept adding more water, thinking it was undercooked.  It just kept cooking and cooking with no discernible difference in taste, texture, etc…)

Saute your onions/leeks/whatevs.  Caramelizing is nice, if you’re up for it, but if not, just wait until they’re translucent and add the garlic and mushrooms. Also add some salt, pepper, and spices — I used some of Penzey’s Shallot-Pepper blend but some basic Italian seasoning or your own combination of thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc would be nice too.  I also added some crushed red pepper for some heat.

I added the tomatoes at this stage too because I like them very wilted, saucy and really cooked into the dish.  If you like them less cooked, just add them later on.

When the spices are fragrant and the veggies have started to cook down a bit, add about a half cup of dry white wine.

I had mistakenly believed I had an open bottle of wine available, but as it turns out, someone DRANK it all ;).  So in a pinch I used a splash of white wine vinegar and some more veggie stock.

Allow everything to cook and flavors to meld in this mixture for about 5 minutes, until the wine has reduced some.

Stir in the quinoa and the spinach.  Keep stirring until the liquid has mostly absorbed.

Feel free to sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top, then EAT!

Enjoy!

-R

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