When leftovers can turn out this delicious, can you imagine how scrumptious your lunch can be when you actually put some thought into it ahead of time?
Quinoa bowls rock.
I first started noticing them on a restaurant menus about five years ago; at that point I still pronounced the word wrong (“Keen-O-a” instead of “KEEN-wah”). These little pearls seemed so mysterious then — I was a late convert and never having cooked it before, I was happy to fork over ten or eleven dollars for someone else to dole out a bowl of quinoa deliciousness to me.
That was then and this is (quinoa-familiar) now, and I make a bowl at home at least once weekly.
Quinoa is now my go-to for a hurry dinner or quick! a-friend-is-coming-over-for-lunch-and-I-have-no-idea-what-I’ll-make kind of meal.
Turns out quinoa is technically not a grain but a seed (thanks, Amy!) that hails originally from South America and allegedly it’s a vitamin powerhouse– it’s full of protein, iron, fiber, folate, magnesium and fatty acids. It’s also gluten-free (and easy to digest), meaning friends with those kinds of issues are always happy to see it on my table.
And did you know that NASA is considering quinoa as a crop for long-term manned space flights? (Doesn’t quinoa sound so much better than Salisbury steak in a tube?)
Those of us who love it also know its other wonderful little secret; from start to finish it should take only about 20 minutes to cook.
Gently rinse your quinoa and then add water in a 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid ratio (I usually cook 1 1/2 C. to 3 C. water for 4-6 ample servings). For every cup of quinoa, add about 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt.
Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 20 minutes (a little less if you let it boil a bit). Let it sit for about 5 minutes off-heat and then serve.
See how easy that is?
For those of you still on the outside looking in at Quinoa-at-Home Goodness, may I present to you:
5 Tips for the Best Quinoa Bowl.
1. First up, watch where you buy it.
Don’t buy it in a precious little box or jar — this spendy grain is even more so when pre-packaged.
My best advice is to buy it at Costco (or have your big-box friend buy it for you). I buy it there in a 4 pound bag, and it’s then only a little over $3 dollars a pound–making it one of the least expensive places I’ve found to get it.
Failing that, look for it in the bulk section of Winco or one of the less expensive stores, and you can easily save yourself a couple dollars on a pound or two. And you’ll want at least that much around once you realize how versatile it is as a kitchen staple.
2. When you’re cooking the quinoa, be sure to add a hefty pinch of salt and a bit of spice or flavoring to the pot before it cooks.
This is important — unsalted, unflavored quinoa can be bland and it’s amazing what a little TLC at the beginning will do.
What you add is totally reliant on the end result you envision, but beyond salt consider any of these additions: grated ginger, minced garlic, green onion, or lightly sauteed shallots or leeks.
As for spices, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, dried ginger, curry, garam masala, turmeric, mustard seeds or even fennel are just a few of the options that come to mind. Not a lot mind you — just a teaspoon or two (depending on how much you’re cooking) can make a vast difference.
Another option is to replace the water with a rich, fortifying chicken or veggie stock — each succulent grain will burst with that much more flavor.
3. Be sure to include a protein so that your bowl has everything you need to both delight and fuel you for the hours ahead.
Quinoa is so neutral that it’s excellent paired with almost any kind of protein you might like.
I’ve enjoyed quinoa bowls with grilled tofu, Orange-Tarragon Chicken, and herby flat-iron, sauteed medium-rare and then sliced paper thin.
The roasted Steelhead with Meyer lemons as seen here was also spectacular with the quinoa in yesterday’s lunch.
I once even roasted a small baking sheet of Indian-spiced garbanzo beans and threw them atop my bowl– and they were delicious.
4. As for other additions to your bowl, go for a harmonious variety.
For yesterday’s bowl, I decided I wanted a green bowl, so I scouted around for what I already had on hand.
I blanched some asparagus and edamame for starters and then gathered up a tiny bit of Feta and cilantro.
The combination was magic — and so healthy tasting.
Also, when assembling your bowl, go for a balance of hot and cold plus both raw and cooked ingredients. And don’t forget some crunch!
I’m a big believer in adding in enough different textures and sensations that your tastebuds are kept on their toes. All hot or all cold is boring in a bowl and all soft is Snoozetown Central as well.
Here, hot, fluffy quinoa with warm roasted fish profits from the addition of a little room-temperature avocado and chilled Feta.
A generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds added the vital crispness and crunch.
5. Don’t forget a last minute addition of some dressing, citrus, or yogurt to pull it all together.
This all depends on what’s going on with your quinoa bowl cast of characters, but most times I find my bowl needs just a little something moist and ultra flavorful to pull it all together.
Don’t panic here as I am not talking anything fancy; just a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon or lime juice (or light vinaigrette) will do. Alternately, try a dollop of smoky paprika yogurt or garlic-spiked tahini.
In yesterday’s version, I used a whole avocado– half sliced up and put in the bowl, the other half mashed with lemon and olive oil and tossed with the salad.
It was seriously so so good.
I’m daydreaming of what’ll come next.
Quinoa bowls with sauteed shrimp, fresh mango, basil and cashews.
Or with green verde chicken with pinto beans and a spicy guacamole.
Or with Thai-inspired lemongrass turkey meatballs with chopped peanuts and gently wilted spinach.
Okay, I think I can finally say that my buying quinoa lunches out days are OVER.