Until a couple months ago, I rolled my eyes every time I heard someone scream the praises of quinoa. It’s one of those words that sounds pretentious no matter who you are or how often you cook with it. (“You’ve never tried quinoa?? It’s awesome. Really. I can’t believe you haven’t tried it.” ) I mean, come on. Quinoa sounds like a made-up name adopted by one of those hippies who squats on Milwaukee, North, and Damen. Moving on, I fought the quinoa bandwagon, but I lost. I lost hard. Suddenly I’ve become the girl who searches foodnetwork.com for new variations on quinoa recipes, forwarding them to friends who couldn’t be less interested.
Quinoa is a funny little thing. It looks like a grain, it tastes like a grain, but holy moly, it’s a seed! To top off that fun kernel of trivia, quinoa is high in protein, low in carbs, and a great substitute for dishes calling for barley, rice, and couscous.
A recipe for a barley risotto caught my eye when I was browsing other food blogs. Featuring greens and Parmesan, the dish seemed like a perfect combination of warmth and earthiness for an 8 degree night in Chicago. The only question was whether or not quinoa would work in the recipe. Mind you, this was the first time I had worked with quinoa, and I was a bundle of nerves. Not necessarily from fear of failure, but fear of wasting another chunk of cash on ingredients. Lucky for me and anyone who likes good food, it was unbelievably good.
A comforting thing to keep in mind is that it’s hard to mess this up. Just follow the directions and you’ll end up with an amazing dinner! I used kale in my version, but that could easily swapped with spinach or any other kind of green you like. The recipe I adapted this from used Parmesan, but I only had Romano on me, and it was still great. You honestly will be shocked at the creamy result you can get from just simmering quinoa with broth and stirring in a little cheese.
Quinoa and Kale Risotto
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
I’ve never really liked the taste of store-bought veggie broth. To substitute, I always keep on hand Knorr Vegetable Bouillon cubes (found at most major grocery store chains). Each cube flavors two cups of water, so this recipe needs about 2 1/2.
Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 sensible eaters
- 5 cups vegetable broth (or whatever broth you prefer, it all works)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves pulled from the stems
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 3 cups chopped kale
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over moderately high heat. Turn burner to low and keep warm.
Heat olive oil in a large deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Stirring every now and then, add garlic, onion and thyme and cook till the onion is softened, roughly 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the quinoa and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine and stir until absorbed, around 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook until absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring until it is nearly absorbed between additions. This usually takes about 35-40 minutes.
Once all the broth has been absorbed, add the chopped kale, letting it wilt and cook in the mixture for another minute.
Stir in the 1/2 cup of Romano and the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve while it’s hot!