It seems to have become PGEW tradition for me to start off each new year with a quinoa recipe – two quinoa recipes, actually. It might have started way back in 2009, my first PGEW New Year. I was feeling rather prolific that morning, despite all the champagne consumed the night before. I wanted something tasty but much more healthy than what I’d had earlier that week, so I cooked up a large batch of quinoa and whipped up two totally random dishes. They ended up being some of the most popular dishes of that year and the a new tradition was born.
And with good reason. ‘Tis the season to be focusing on health goals, eating more healthfully, and all that jazz. As I’ve said time and time again, quinoa is a wonderful staple to keep around, not only because of its high yield and versatility, but because of its nutritional values as well. In an effort to restock my freezer with new supplies for the beginning of the new year, I like to cook up big batches bare bones staples like quinoa, so that I can portion them out and freeze for later use.
But before freezing must come experimenting, so I divvied up some of my most recent batch between my Cranberry-Pistachio Oatmeal-Quinoa Cookies and this new little pilaf I’ve been thinking about for days. I’d played around with an easy quinoa pilaf over the Christmas holiday and liked the result so much, I started coming up with other flavor combos. I had a good idea in mind but didn’t want to use up all my quinoa for this dish, since I was eager to getting the freezing & stocking portion of my day out of the way.
Eyeing the pot of brown rice that had just finished cooking on the stove, I had an idea I’m ashamed I hadn’t thought of earlier. Put the two things together, for crying out loud! It makes sense, right? The rice helps to stretch the use of the quinoa even further, helping to spend less on the mother grain, while the quinoa lends extra protein and nutrition to a familiar staple. A few vegetable additions later and voila! Dinner is served.
I’m still in seasonal cooking mode, so I made use of this ridiculously adorable butternut squash I’d been hoarding for a couple weeks. Along with tender, meaty mushrooms, and some bright green kale for color and crunch, this quickly became a fabulous one-dish meal. And because I’m throwing dried cranberries into everything these days (holy recent bulk sale, Batman!), I added a few of those at the very end, for even more color and an added zing. I realize some folks might find this addition a bit odd, so I’ve left them as an optional ingredient in the recipe, but if you’ll trust me on this one, try it with the cranberries first. They really kick things up a notch!
Though I’m used to making a lot of these one-dish meals, I have the feeling I’ll be making a lot more of these this year. With the new work schedule, my dinnertime is way off, happening either around 3pm on the train headed there, or at around 1:30am, once I’ve tended to the furchildren and soaked my sore feet. Having this sort of thing on hand to take with me to work or have on hand to reheat quickly after my shift is over is an absolute lifesaver, so if you struggle with the same kind of hectic day, you’ll love what’s coming this year. Just commit to setting aside a few hours of just one day to get a lot of your prep done – like cooking and freezing staples like rice, beans and other grains – and you’re good to go.
Back to this dish, though… I love it. I had two bowlfuls of it the first time I made it and smiled happily with every bite. You can tell that it’s good for you with all that healthy nuttiness lent by the quinoa and brown rice, but it’s not like typical “health food”. It’s more like health comfort food: a big, hearty dish that’s both filling and filled with great flavors. The sweetness of the squash, the crunchy green flavor of the kale, all those mighty, meaty mushrooms – everything comes together beautifully. As I’ve mentioned before, it makes a fantastic meatless entree, but it’s also a wonderful side for lean cuts of chicken or pork. And while it’s meant to be served hot, I just snuck a bite from the bowl in the fridge and found it’s pretty darn tasty cold, too!
Enough babbling! It’s time to check out the recipe. Here’s to a much happier and (hopefully) healthier year for all of us! Happy New Year, everyone! : )
Brown Rice-Quinoa Pilaf with Butternut, Mushrooms & Kale (makes 4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)
Because the main components of the dish are relatively mild in flavor, I felt it was important to incorporate some acidity, in order to bring out their full flavor potential. While the savoriness of the onions & garlic go a long way, a bit of balsamic vinegar added to the mushrooms enhance both the flavor of the mushrooms, and that of the dish as a whole. If you feel it’s a bit too “tangy”, reduce the amount to 1/2 tablespoon and you’ll be set.
2 T olive oil, divided
1 small butternut squash
1/2 c chopped red onion
1 t minced garlic
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 8 oz. package white or cremini mushrooms
1 c (packed) chopped kale
1 1/2 c cooked brown rice
1 1/2 c cooked quinoa (red or white is fine)
1 c dried cranberries (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Peel, seed and chop the butternut squash into 1″ cubes. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of salt & pepper, then place on prepared cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until fragrant and softened. Next, add the mushrooms and balsamic vinegar, and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the chopped kale, and mix well. (The residual heat will wilt the kale so that it’s tender.)
3. Combine the brown rice and quinoa in a bowl and mix until both ingredients are evenly distributed. Toss this into the mushroom & kale mixture and mix well. Next, add about 1 1/2 cups of the roasted squash and mix in gently. Lastly, mix in the dried cranberries (if you’ll be using them).
4. Check for flavoring and adjust according to taste with more salt & pepper if needed. Serve as a one-dish meatless entree, or as a hearty side to lean proteins, and enjoy!