Pantry Raid: Quinoa

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About four months ago, after reading of quinoa's "super food" status, I purchased a big bag of the stuff. Apparently, this was a rash decision, as I have since made myself a single serving of plain quinoa following the simple instructions on the bag. “But it’s a perfect protein!” I hear. “It’s so delicious!” That may be, but there it sat, that big, beautiful bag of quinoa, every time I opened my pantry doors.

So this past Sunday I decided to accept its unspoken challenge by cooking a quinoa-based meal. My only demands were that the recipe be A) easy; B) fast; C) cheap; D) tasty; E) vegan. Since these were tall orders, I decided to search for the perfect quinoa recipe using Vegetarian Times' recipe finder rather than relying on my own culinary genius, or lack thereof.  One quick search for “quinoa” and voila! Quinoa Medley with Beans and Corn. Vegan? Check! Cheap, fast and easy? Check, check, check! Tasty? TBD.

I loved that I already had most of the ingredients in my pantry. I was only missing a lime (for garnish), which I chose to ignore, and chili powder, for which the cute guy next door came in handy. (He actually loaned me hot salt, but I decided that was close enough.) The recipe was nearly as easy to make as a microwave dish. It only required one pot and one bowl, and was prepped and completed in less than 30 minutes.

The only mishap was that the bottom layer of quinoa burned. When asked for advice on this sticky situation, Mary Margaret Chappell, VT's food editor, says, "it sounds to me like the cooking water evaporated too fast from the pot and didn't have time to be absorbed by the quinoa. This can happen if the heat's too high or if the cover on the saucepan isn't tight and lets steam escape while the quinoa is cooking. It could also be that the quinoa has been stocked/in storage for a while and has dried out more, meaning it will need more liquid to cook completely."

To prevent the dish from burning, Chappell suggests, "take a quick peek halfway through cooking time to see that there's enough liquid left. If the pan looks dry (there might even be a sizzling sound from the bottom), add an extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, then cook until most of it has been absorbed."

While the dish was delish solo, it looked and tasted like it belonged inside of a tortilla, so I ate my second serving in burrito form with an extra helping of salsa. For the dairy lovers out there, I imagine it would taste yummy with some cheddar cheese and sour cream.

All in all, this quinoa challenge has inspired me to get cookin' on a more regular basis…especially if it gives me an excuse to knock on my cute neighbor-boy’s door.

—Sarah Smith, guest blogger

Do you have wholesome ingredients sitting pretty on your pantry shelves? Pantry Raid is a new VT blog series that'll help you clean out your pantry, clean up your diet, and save cash. Stay tuned for more inspirational uses of kitchen staples.