QuinoaFest 2013, Part 1: Quinoa & Cheese


quinoa2This week I have decided to focus on the famous superfood, quinoa! Why?  Because I looked in my pantry and I had a big old thing of quinoa.  This is how the muse speaks to me.  For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa, here’s how to pronounce it:

Just kidding.  That’s not right at all!  It’s KEEN-WAHHHH.  Working in retail, I heard more butcherings of that than possibly imaginable, but not as many as the word “espresso.”  (It’s not expresso!)  Anyway, so what is quinoa?  It’s an ancient seed-like crop, very popular amongst the Incas and other Andean civilizations.   Best of all, it boasts insane nutritional benefits.  It is a complete protein whilst being vegetarian and vegan friendly, has high levels of magnesium, iron, calcium (and is lactose free!), and is a great source of dietary fiber.  It’s also super fun to cook with.  I’ve seen everything from quinoa pasta to breads to smoothies and so on.   I rather like it in the original format, but with different flavor variations.

Preparing quinoa on it’s own is very easy, akin to cooking rice.  You simply rinse it, boil, simmer, and let it set.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that you really must rinse it first, because quinoa has a bitter coating on it called Saponin.  Most manufacturers process the quinoa before packaging to remove this, but it’s still a good idea to rinse it first.  Plus, you get to stick your hands in it, and when it gets wet, it feels like this:

floam

Floam!  If you’re a child of the nineties, you should appreciate this.

So for my first quinoa recipe, I’m gonna do a variation on mac & cheese.  It bugs me when people call it Quinoa Mac & Cheese because there is no mac there.  So Quinoa & Cheese it is.  I have a block of Trader Joe’s Sage Cheddar that I’ve been wanting to use, so that’s what I’m gonna do tonight, but feel free to substitute whatever cheese you prefer.

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Quinoa & Cheese

1 C quinoa

1 1/2 C water

2 T Olive Oil or Butter

2 T all purpose flour

3 C milk – whatever fat content you like, or other versions of milk

2 T dijon mustard

1 1/2 tsp herbes de provence

2 C cheese,  shredded (seen here: Sage Derby by Trader Joes)

Salt and Pepper

Panko – Optional – enough to cover the top of the dish

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Rinse quinoa using a fine mesh colander.  Combine in a saucepan with the water, and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce to a simmer, about 7-8 minutes.  Let stand for a few minutes, while you prepare the sauce

In another saucepan, melt your butter or warm your oil.  Add the flour and whisk until combined, keep going another minute and a half.  Add the milk, about 1/2 C at a time.   Between additions whisk until it thickens, then add more.  When you get a nice, thick sauce that will coat the back of a spoon, add in all but 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese, the mustard, the herbes de provence, and some salt and pepper.  Stir until combined and the cheese is melted.  Carefully stir the cooked quinoa into the cheese mixture.  Taste it and make sure your seasonings are to your liking.  Pour the half of the combination into a casserole dish or baking pan,  and then sprinkle some more of the cheese on top.  Fill the rest of the quinoa in, top with more shredded cheese, and then the panko. (Tip: for better browning, mix the quinoa with a little bit of melted butter, just a touch.)  Cover the dish and bake for approximately 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake for another 10, or until the top is nicely browned and bubbly.  Enjoy!

Serves 4-6

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