Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recipe: Mushroom Quinoa with Pesto & Almonds

Even though this isn't technically the first post of the year, it’s somewhat of a PGEW tradition to start off the year with a new quinoa recipe. I’m not about to break tradition now, so I’m starting things off with this little darling.

I originally threw this one together last fall. I’d had one of Those Days, and was looking forward to a relaxing evening at home with a good dinner. I remember the ride back home that day, too. The more I thought about what I’d have for dinner, the more excited I got. I know quinoa isn't the kind of thing most people get excited about, but I’m a simple gal and get tickled by the little things in life. Like tiny, hard-to-pronounce seeds that are mistaken for grains and make incredibly delicious meals.

Like most of my quinoa recipes (or my recipes in general), this one is quite simple in its components. But it’s the simplicity that makes it so great. A few mushrooms, a generous amount of pesto, some almonds for crunch – you don’t need much more than that to make a terrific side dish or meatless entrée.

When I first made this, I wanted to throw in some kale or spinach to boost the nutrition and aesthetics. Pesto is pretty and all, but not so much once it’s mixed in with brown and beige things. At the time, however, either I didn’t have enough on hand or I only had delicate spring mix to work with, so I just omitted the greens completely. That worked out just fine, and you are more than welcome to do the same.

I won’t wax poetic about the cost effectiveness of this one, as it’s pretty much the same litany I write about most of my quinoa dishes. But I do want to share one big reminder that will help make this one fit almost any budget: make your own pesto.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I dislike jarred pesto (Mezzetta’s is to die for!). But $6 - $8 for a tiny jar isn’t always most prudent purchase. When I do get the jarred kind, it’s usually from Grocery Outlet, where they’ll be marked down to $1.99/jar, but otherwise, I try to make my own. There’s nothing to it, really, and the smell of fresh herbs in the kitchen is downright intoxicating.

Now, you don’t have to stick to the traditional basil pesto that’s filled with dreamy things like parmesan and pine nuts. You’ll notice I have yet to make traditional pesto on PGEW, and that’s because those two ingredients would eat up a lot of my food budget. Any herb and nut combination makes for a great pesto sauce, from cilantro and pistachio, to plain ol’ scallions. A spinach or kale pesto would also work in a pinch, but I’d stick with an herb pesto for this dish. Since the flavors of the mushrooms, quinoa and almonds are so mild, it’s nice to have that kick and aroma that only fresh herbs can give.

I think this one might go on regular rotation for some of you, especially my vegetarian and vegan readers. It’s certainly become a new quinoa staple at my place when the planets and stars align, and it goes with just about everything. Not enough quinoa on hand? Take a tip from my brown rice and quinoa pilaf and stretch out your Mother Grain supply with some brown rice. The flavors and textures still go great together, and you’ll save a little extra, too.

Let’s check out the recipe!

Mushroom Quinoa with Pesto & Almonds (makes 3-4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.85)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c sliced mushrooms
Salt & pepper
1 T olive oil
1 c cooked quinoa
1/3 c pesto (homemade or jarred is fine)
1/4 - 1/3 c coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 c chopped spinach or kale (optional)
Extra pesto for garnish (optional)

Directions:
1. Sweat the mushrooms over medium high heat in a large, dry skillet. Once they've started to release a bit of their natural moisture and become tender (about a minute or so), season with a small pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and continue to saute for another 30-60 seconds.

2. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the quinoa and stir into the mushrooms. Next, add the pesto and mix until incorporated into the mushroom & quinoa mixture. Cook for another minute or two, then stir in the chopped almonds.

3. Turn off the heat and add in the chopped spinach or kale if you're using it. The residual heat from the dish will wilt the greens perfectly without turning them too soft. Serve as an entree with a nice salad, or as a side with grilled meats or other protein. Top with extra pesto if you're a pesto addict like me, and enjoy!

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