Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quinoa with Onions and Spinach

Hellooo out there, blog friends!  So when I'm subbing (or working full-time in a school like I was the past 2 months - YAY for fantastic women who have babies so I can take their job for a while!), I am vigilant about bringing healthy lunches.  I make sure that I bring things that are well balanced, low to moderate in the calorie count, fresh fruits and vegetables, and all that jazz, and I drink at least 3 (regular-sized) bottles of water every day.  In addition, my classroom the past 2 months was a classroom and a bulletin board's length from the complete opposite end of the school from the main office.  Needless to say, I did A TON of running around like a crazy person from one end of the building to the other.  All of this combined probably has something to do with why I feel so much better and healthier when I'm working.

And then summer sets in.

And it's nothing but barbecue after barbecue with tons of potato and/or macaroni salad, loaded with mayo, and waiting for me to consume 1,000 calories of that alone before I even think about eating anything else.  And the anything else isn't just any old food - it's Spanish rice, sausage and peppers, BBQ chicken, pulled pork, and hamburgers and hot dogs (okay, I don't eat hamburgers, I eat veggie burgers.  And I only eat turkey hot dogs... but still), and I haven't even thought about dessert yet.  It's not okay.

So darling blog friends, listen up.  Do as I am doing and STEP AWAY FROM THE BARBECUE TABLE, because things are about to get all kinds of healthified (yes, I made that word up.  Yes, I think Webster needs to know about it).

Today, I decided that after eating like a disgusting wild animal for the past few weeks, I am finally FED UP and refusing to do it anymore.  Luckily for me, my mom is the coolest human being alive and she bought me quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) a couple weeks ago and it has been sitting in my pantry since then.  For those of you who don't know what quinoa is, it's a crop that is most closely related to beets and spinach, but is grown solely for its adorable little edible seeds (seriously cute stuff, wait for the picture).  The important thing to know about quinoa is that, unlike most other grain-type foods, it is a complete protein all on its own, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids human beings need, all in one super cute little package (which is very rare in the plant world).  It looks like this when it's uncooked:

Photo Credit: Wikipedia   

And like this when it's cooked:

Photo Credit: http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com
Super cute, right?  It tastes slightly nutty and has a pleasantly light and chewy texture.  It could easily be substituted into recipes that call for white or brown rice and I'd be just as happy eating it. 

Here's what I did today.  I chopped up half an onion and threw it into a pot with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil (yes, I know that's only a little bit but I'm trying to be healthy here and 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories, who knew?).  I stirred that up a bit and added a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, chili powder, and paprika.  I stirred that up until the onions were nicely red from all the spices and just let it cook low and slow for a while so the onions would caramelize (caramelized onions = tons of flavor, very few calories, even less effort - seriously, I think I stirred the onions twice in like 15 minutes and they did the rest of the work on their own).  Then, I poured in 2 cups of water and 1 cup of uncooked quinoa (it's always a 2:1 ratio, liquid to quinoa, no matter how much you're cooking).  I let it come to a boil and then turned the heat down to simmer (medium-low) and let it simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on.  While that was happening, I defrosted a box of frozen spinach, squeezed out the extra liquid, and after 10 minutes I tumbled that into the pot as well.  The quinoa spent 5 more minutes simmering on the stove with a lid after that and it was done and looked like this:

So easy - and the only frills this dish has are those little curly tails that pop out of the quinoa once it's cooked.  This is definitely my kind of dish.  It tasted like yum, packed some serious nutritional value, and had very few calories (I don't know the specific count, but if you're that interested, leave a comment and I'll figure it out).  All in all, a definite success!  Next time, I would add more of the spices because the flavor didn't come out as much as I wanted it to, but it was still so yummy.  I plopped this on a plate with a veggie burger and had that for lunch and literally wasn't hungry for hours.

Make this. You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Quinoa with Onions and Spinach

1/2 of an onion, any color you'd like, chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove extra moisture
1 cup quinoa (white, red, or black would all do just fine - yes, there are even different colors! I love this stuff.)
2 cups water (you could even use chicken or vegetable stock if you wanted to add some more flavor)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Chop the onion and drop it into a pot with the olive oil.  Add the cayenne, paprika, and chili powder, and stir to combine.  Let cook on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes until the onions are slightly caramelized.  Add water and quinoa and stir.  Let the mixture come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, put on a lid, and let simmer for 10 minutes.  Defrost a box of frozen spinach, squeeze to remove excess liquid, and add to the pot.  Stir to combine and replace the lid and let cook for another 5 minutes.  Stir, salt and pepper to taste, and serve!

Enjoy! <3

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