Friday, August 20, 2010

Vegetable Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain not many people may be familiar with. It comes from South America and is actually is a seed, but not a true grain. It has a nutty/grainy flavor and can be used as you would couscous, rice, or barley. It's actually cheapest in the bulk section at someplace like Whole Foods (about $2.99/lb.) as opposed to more expensive boxes of pre-packaged regular grocery store versions that don't give you a pound per box.

This is great either warm or room temperature (or even cold). It works as a salad or a side/grain/starch to add to a meal.
You can take a little creative license with this one. Things can definitely be added or omitted to suit whatever you might think is best!

If it happens to be a concern of yours, quinoa IS gluten free in it's grain form (when it looks like seeds- as in this recipe).

One thing this quinoa is excellent for is stuffing zucchini (I just didn't have enough zucchini- so I went with the alternative method of adding some zucchini instead of adding TO zucchini). You could also stuff portobello mushroom caps and cook in the oven or on the grill (maybe omit the mushrooms OR just chop the stems and add them to the onions while sauteeing).

So, these "unconventional" tomatoes are from our garden. We didn't have very many of the red cherry tomatoes, but there are plenty of the yellow pear-shaped ones! I thought they were kind of fun. Tomatoes are fun.

The pine nuts are a great addition, especially if they're toasted. We've pretty much always had pine nuts at our house, not because we're Italian. To me they're piñons, not so "pine nut" or "pignoli" (I actually didn't know they were pine nuts for a while). Mom used to live in New Mexico, and they grow wild there on piñon pines. Sometimes we would get some in the mail from her aunt and uncle who are still there, but they were still in their smooth shells which coat each tiny nut individually. She told us that the Navajo kids used to keep a mouthful of the nuts when they were in school. One cheek would be full of unshelled nuts and the other would be full of shells. The kids would somehow transfer the nuts from one cheek, remove the nut, and store the shells in the other cheek without the teachers knowing. What talent!

The original recipe comes from a friend (thanks, friend) who calls the stuffed zucchini "zu-quin-oes" (combining zucchini, quinoa, and canoe- they rhyme with and sort of look like canoes).
IF you decide to stuff zucchini with the quinoa, you'll want to remember to chop your vegetables more finely than if you were just eating this as a side or a salad.

This slightly-messed-with Natalie version can easily be halved.

Vegetable Quinoa
makes approximately 12 cups

2 c uncooked quinoa
4 c. vegetable or chicken broth
3 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 8-oz package of mushrooms, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 c halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 c pine nuts (toasted if possible)
3/4 to 1 c feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse zucchini well under cool running water in a mesh strainer.
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa and simmer covered about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and all the liquid has been absorbed.

In a separate pan saute the onion, garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms over low to medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the pine nuts and saute a couple more minutes.

Add the sauteed vegetables to the cooked quinoa as well as the tomatoes, feta cheese. Fold together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scoop out the seeds from halved zucchini and fill with quinoa mixture. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until zucchini is soft and the quinoa is slightly browned and crunchy on top.


  1. Natalie, this looks great! What would you recommend substituting for the cheese to make a taste-filled vegan version? Have some vegan friends coming to a party...

  2. There are a couple issues to tackle here...
    First, I don't know if I can approve of your having vegan friends.
    Second, I think a bunch of chopped green onions tossed in right before serving would add some nice color and flavor. Maybe you could add a bit more garlic.
    If you want some texture variety, maybe you could try to saute some cubed tofu until it's golden and fold that in. For the record I really don't mind tofu.