Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Food trends – like haute fashion from the runways in Paris, the latest and greatest food trends seem to change with the seasons. For those old enough to remember, in the 1960s we all loved to buy anything labelled “space-age.” In fact, as a kid I remember all of my classmates drinking Tang because it was the breakfast drink of the astronauts!  Personally I prefer real orange juice, from real oranges, but I know – I have always been a marketing department’s nightmare.

More recently, we have seen everything under the heat lamp seasoned with something “chipotle” even though there still remains disagreement as to how to pronounce the word. I mean, is it chi-po-tal or is it chi-po-tlay? Then there was the trend of customized cakes, which eventually fell to “cup-cakeries.” I think gourmet doughnuts are next.

Regardless, a trend worth trying is the “good for you” food known as the tiny little quinoa. Pronounced “keen-wah,” it looks a little bit like couscous, but the important difference here is that quinoa is neither a pasta nor a grain. It is a seed! Originally a staple of the Inca, this complete protein in a micro-pod has become the newest cash crop in many dry and arid lands. My quinoa came from Israel by way of the grocery store across the bay. There was no slight intended, Inca, it was the only brand in the store. Nothing to lose your head over. Especially mine.

Sorry, I digress.

So – just what do you do with a keen-Wah, I mean, quinoa?

Well, if mac-n-cheese comes to your mind, you are not alone. I did a quick and highly unscientific Google search and found healthy chef and fitness expert Monica Nelson’s blog. And lo and behold – there was a recipe for Quinoa Mac N Cheese.

Had to try it.

Of course, like always, I changed a few things to fit what I had in the pantry, but I am confident you could follow Monica’s recipe verbatim and end up with a great vegetarian and gluten free entree. Here’s my version (it’s very close, actually.)

Monica’s Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep time 10 minutes if you are slow. Cooking time: 60 minutes plus or minus a few depending on your oven, etc.

Serves 4 – 6 people, or three teenagers.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 medium leek – trim off the tip of the white end. Slice and chop the rest of the white and some of the pale green parts. No leaves. Rinse and pat dry.

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups of quinoa. Rinse in a bowl of water and, using a strainer, drain

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of seasoning salt (I used Emeril’s Bam!Burger Seasoning)

3 cups of water

2 large eggs

1 cup of milk (again, your choice. I used organic 2%)

3 cups grated, medium-sharp, Cheddar cheese

Topping: 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Using a medium heat setting, heat the oil in a 2 quart sauce pan.

Add the chopped leeks and diced tomatoes, stir, cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the quinoa; add the garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook uncovered for 4 minutes.

Add your seasoning salt and stir once more.

Pour in the three cups of water; stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remover from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. (I actually skipped this part – I was too hungry. The awesome smell made me do it.)

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk. Remembering that a lot of heat transferred from the stove top to the sauce pan, carefully add the quinoa mixture into the egg/milk bowl. Using a spatula, fold the quinoa into the liquid until fully combined. Add cheese here. Add more if you want. Go ahead – it will be okay.  That said, I think three cups of Cheddar cheese made for a great dish, so try more cheese the next time you make this dish.

The whole thing will look kind of drippy, soupy, watery, gruel-ee. But we want that. Don’t panic.

Spray some cooking spray into a 13×9 baking dish, then add the quinoa “batter.”

Optional: top with the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese shavings.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until the edges start to brown up. I’d start watching it around 20 minutes, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer than thirty minutes. The key to success, I think, is the 13×9 pan. You will end up with a mac n cheese that is about an inch thick, and this works very well on the plate. If you use a round casserole dish, 2 quart size for instance, the cooking times go awry and you may end up with soupy mac-n-cheese on the inside topped by burnt bread crumbs on the outside. But hey – it’s your choice.  (go 13×9, hint hint)

When it’s done – it’s done. Stop reading. Start eating!

Buen provecho, amigos!

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