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.
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.
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!