Can you believe it’s already May? This year is seriously flying by! Between starting a new job, planning a wedding, and setting up a new home, I’ve barely had time to cook. I’ve been dabbling in your average pasta and tomato sauce now-and-again, but I’ve been eating mostly raw and ready-to-eat foods like salads and deli meats. I’m hoping that those crummy April showers lead to May flowers… and free time!
I haven’t completely jumped off the cooking wagon. I’ve found that the perfect dish to cook in a pinch is a casserole.
A casserole can be loosely defined as a conglomerate of random ingredients that are cooked into one meal.
You’ve heard of a green bean casserole, or a tuna casserole, right?
To my knowledge, most people put some sort of grain, protein, cheese, and vegetable into a casserole, and then they let the oven work its magic.
I originally wanted to bake macaroni and cheese for this blog post, but it turned out that I only had spaghetti in the house. Therefore I relied on my trusty ingredient substitution, quinoa.
Quinoa, pronounced keen-WAH, is a grain of the goosefoot family. The leaves of goosefoot plants resemble the webbed feet of geese!
Quinoa is mainly grown for its edible seeds. After harvesting, the seeds are usually processed to remove their coatings. These coatings contain bitter compounds called saponins, which are toxic to humans at high levels.
Saponins are part of the family of plants that were originally used to create soap. They make foam when shaken in water.
It’s important to rinse quinoa before use to “wash away” the excess saponin. You’ll know that you’ve rinsed the quinoa thoroughly when the water starts draining clear instead of cloudy.
Quinoa is really easy to make. Its cooking process is similar to that of rice. Quinoa, on its own, has a mild, yet somewhat nutty flavor.
Quinoa is a great alternative to white, refined grains. Not only is it a whole grain, but it’s also a complete source of protein. It has all of the essential amino acids found in protein. Humans can naturally produce half of protein’s amino acids, but the other half of them have to come from our diet. It is “essential” for us to eat them every day! For more information on protein, check out my peanut butter protein bar recipe.
If you’ve never tried quinoa, now is your chance! This recipe is sure to get you into the quinoa craze. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!
- 2 cups quinoa (dry, any color)
- 4 cups water
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 cups low-fat milk
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
- 8 oz (1/2 pound) raw spinach
- Cook the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa with a mesh strainer until the water drains clear. Combine 2 cups of quinoa with 4 cups of water in a small to medium-sized sauce pan. Put 1 Tbsp of olive oil in the water to prevent the quinoa from sticking together. Place the quinoa and water on the stove and let them come to a boil. Reduce the heat, and allow the quinoa to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. The quinoa is done when the water gets completely absorbed by the grains, and the quinoa has “sprouted.”
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the butter, milk, and sour cream in a large frying pan. **Make sure the remaining ingredients for the casserole are close at hand and ready to use for the next steps.**
- Whisk the flour into the sauce mixture. You will have to stir continuously to thicken the sauce from this point on. While you’re stirring, add the spices to the pan. Keep stirring until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Add half a pound of mozzarella cheese to the pan. Continue whisking the cheese sauce until you can stretch it with your whisk. At this time, the sauce is completed.
- Grease two 9 x 9 inch baking pans. Split the quinoa equally into the two pans. Stir the cheese sauce equally into the two pans, and mix it into the quinoa. Add some spinach to each pan, and mix some more. Put another layer of spinach on top of the quinoa. Then place the remaining half pound of mozzarella cheese on top of the spinach.
- Place the casseroles into the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the casseroles, and place aluminum foil on top of both pans. Place the pans back into the oven for another 5 minutes, to make sure the cheese starts to brown and crisp.
- Allow the casseroles to cool for at least 10 minutes so the cheese can set. Then scoop out some portions, and enjoy!!
This quinoa casserole only took about one hour to make, half an hour of which it was sitting in the oven. It’s a fast, easy, and scrumptious dish for the whole family. You’ll cook an impressive meal, and it won’t even feel like you lifted a finger. Sounds good to me!
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