While we've had an incredibly dry winter thus far (and I'm the only person in California who's happy about that; only because I don't have a car and hate walking in the rain), it's definitely been a cold winter. And like most people, when that cold weather hits, I crave heartier, creamier, more comforting food. The problem with that, however, is that most comfort food involves heavier, richer, less good-for-you ingredients in its preparation. A difficult dilemma, indeed.
Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. From pasta casseroles to traditional party food, I've found my own ways to keep the "comfort" part of comfort food, without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. That's why risotto is such a wonderful option. While there are some recipes out there that are a bit heavy on the cheese, the beauty of risotto is that it gets its rich creaminess from the natural starches of the rice - not from heavy creams or sauces.
Quinoa offers similar results, with the added bonus of getting a healthy dose of protein in every bite. It's a great option for vegetarians & vegans, or for omnivores like me who participate in Meatless Mondays. My first foray into risotto-making was actually with the fair mother grain (come to think of it, I have yet to make a proper risotto using rice; I need to fix that), and it was everything I'd hoped it would be. Creamy but not mushy, and full of flavor and texture, with that fun little "pop" that only quinoa can give to a dish.
This time around, I kept things simple and just used some roasted butternut squash and sweet green peas for my risotto add-ins. The sweetness of each vegetable complements the savory quinoa beautifully, keeping the dish nicely balanced. While it's a seasonal dish with respect to the butternut, you can easily make this year 'round by using frozen squash instead. If your store doesn't carry it, you can easily freeze your own to use whenever you want.
While I enjoyed it as a fabulous meatless entrée, this risotto will also make a lovely side dish to complement meats or other dishes at dinnertime. Other than that, there's not much else to note on this one! Let's check out the recipe...
Herbed Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash & Sweet Peas (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $1.35)Ingredients
2 T olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 c diced yellow onion
1 c uncooked quinoa
1/2 c white wine*
4 c vegetable broth
1/4 c parmesan cheese (optional)
1 T herbes de provence
1/4 t dried sage
1 c roasted or sauteed butternut squash cubes
1 c frozen green peas, thawed
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Carefully rinse the quinoa 2-3 times to ensure that it is completely clean and then drain well. Heat a large skillet heat over medium heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook slowly until the onion begins to soften. Add a generous pinch of salt and a bit of pepper and mix in.
2. Increase the heat to medium high and add the rinsed quinoa. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed completely. Slowly pour about 1/2 cup of broth into the quinoa and allow to simmer until the quinoa has absorbed it all, stirring frequently. Continue this process, pouring in the broth only 1/2 cup at a time, until the quinoa is creamy and the quinoa germs have burst (you may have extra broth left over; if so, set aside for a different meal), about 20 minutes.
3. While the last bit of broth has almost been absorbed, add the ¼ c of parmesan cheese (if you're using it) and continue to stir well. Add the herbes de provence & sage, then gently fold in the butternut squash and peas. Serve by itself or as an accompaniment to meats or other meatless sides, and enjoy!