If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying to take advantage of healthier foods lately, and what better way than to cut back on meat? By now, you may have heard of Meatless Mondays, a movement encouraging Americans to cut out meat one day a week. If Mario Batali can do it, why not the rest of us?
Two meatless superfoods that have recently become popular are quinoa and kale. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a complex carbohydrate that looks like a grain but is actually a seed. Aside from the usual health rewards of whole-grain carbs (high in antioxidants, minerals, and fiber), quinoa has the added benefit of being a rare, excellent source of plant-based complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. And I’ve already hopefully sold you on the benefits of kale when I used it in my lentil soup.
I developed this recipe a little over a month ago when looking for something that combined those two foods, and it’s quickly become one of my go-to dishes. In fact, I just might be addicted. First, there’s such an interesting array of textures and flavors that work together incredibly well. Sweet and nutty notes dominate the dish, with the caramelized onions, quinoa, and kale all bringing both flavors in varying proportions. Then there is the texture: the kale is pillowy yet al dente, with the quinoa offering little bursts of goodness, sort of like a vegetarian caviar.
Second, although it takes a bit of time to cook, each step can be completed while one of the others is cooking. Wash and chop the kale and garlic while the onion is caramelizing. If you’re serving it as a side dish, cook the entrée while the kale and quinoa are steaming. Also, it uses only one pot to cook both the quinoa pilaf and the kale, saving clean-up time later on. Finally, it’s highly versatile, serving as either a vegetarian entrée or a side dish for a more elaborate vegetarian or carnivore meal. You can even fortify it further with the addition of a poached or over-easy fried egg, like I have pictured above. Is there anything a runny egg can’t make even better?
Quinoa With Kale
Adapted from Weight Watchers, believe it or not
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups vegetable stock (Okay, I cheat and always use chicken stock, but that’s not very meatless. Let’s just say you can use either, depending on your commitment level.)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch kale, center stems discarded, leaves chopped into half-inch strips
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil; add onion and reduce heat to medium low. Cook onion very slowly until it starts to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Don’t rush this; the caramelization adds an extra level of flavor. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add quinoa and cook for 1 minute. Stir in stock, red pepper, and salt. Gently place kale on top of stock without stirring so that it can steam while the quinoa cooks. Cover and cook at a low simmer for 20 minutes or until stock is absorbed.
Remove from heat and gently fold the kale into the quinoa until well combined. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if required.
Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a side dish.