Quinoa-Con-Queso… “Risotto”

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Before I get into the specifics of fabulous Southwestern quinoa, I should let you know that I’m breaking a rule here.  Rule #27 in Courtney’s kitchen is that I can no longer use the word risotto to describe one of my dishes, especially when company is about.  Just kidding, I don’t have kitchen rules.  Well, maybe I have kitchen rules – like, no pets on tables, no spoiled food in fridge, and no lighting your hair on fire (trust me, it has happened, and it is not a smell you want in a kitchen) – but I don’t number most of them.

But I can’t use the term risotto because I make it too much.  I make it when my friends come for dinner, I make it when I want to impress my family during a visit, and I make it when I want easy – but gourmet – comfort food.  Alas, I once thought the risotto recipe I found on a bag of frozen butternut squash was a spectacular find that only I knew of, and that I was doing the world a Prometheus-like service by providing it with the stuff of the Gods.

Then I realized everyone already knew about Risotto.  (Don’t you?)  But I couldn’t just stop making it, because a recipe that involves white wine and cheese as fundamental ingredients cannot be thrown out, and its tastiness cannot be denied.  So, I disguised it.  It often goes under some alias along the lines of “Gruyere-butternut Arborio,” when made with the traditional rice, or “Asiago and Spinach Quinoa” if I’m getting creative – don’t those sound like good variations? – and then everyone thinks I’m making something new, when really I just keep messing around with my little, happy, familiar routine.  

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Today, let's just call it Risotto.

I’m doing this for you, so you best appreciate it.  This is risotto; albeit not made with rice, as the name and tradition indicates; but with the creaminess of risotto that makes the dish so appealing.  A dish I will go to great lengths to preserve and re-serve.  At the SAME TIME it is a totally new experience for those who have not got fancy with their recipe… and have also had to begin giving it new names.  Hi, honey, I made you some cheesy rice stuff!

So now you have a better understanding of my relationship with this dish… maybe too much… and I should stop now and let you have the recipe that will make you want to get cookin’.

By the way… what do you cook too much, and how do you keep it interesting?  Anyone get after you for it?  Hope it’s not just me! ;)

Quinoa Con Queso “Risotto”

Serves 6-8

2 cups dry quinoa

½ cup dry white wine, or veg. or chicken stock

3+ cups veg. or chicken stock

2 T. canola or olive oil (separated)

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 green bell pepper, stem removed + seeds and inner white parts discarded

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 green onion stalks chopped  (reserve ½ of one stalk for garnish)

1 15-oz can fire roasted, diced (low sodium) tomatoes

1 15-oz can beans (black or a mixture) rinsed and drained

1 ½ cups frozen corn

2 big handfuls cilantro, chopped (reserve some for garnish)

2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend

Lemon or lime slices for garnish.

Seasonings: Cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, chili powder, to taste.  Usually ends up being between 1/8-1/2 tsp. for each, but I often just use my shakers liberally to get the flavors where I need them!

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Heat 1 T. oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium-high heat.  Toast the quinoa in the hot oil, stirring every few seconds, until you can just start to smell the seeds, about 2-3 minutes. 

Next, pour in the white wine and allow it to absorb for a minute.

Quinoa at about 10-15 minutes in, not done yet!  Time for more liquid and another 5 minutes or so.

Quinoa at about 10-15 minutes in, not done yet!  Time for more liquid and another 5 minutes or so.

One of the differences with quinoa as opposed to Arborio rice is that it lacks most of the starchiness of the latter, and I have personally never found that adding the liquid all at once effects quinoa’s finished texture in a bad way.  So that’s what I do.  I pour in the first 3 cups of stock, give the quinoa a stir, bring it to a simmer, and pop a lid on it.  Then I set the timer for 15 minutes, and walk away.  (Somewhere I can still hear the timer, of course!) 

When the timer is up, check to see if the liquid is gone by giving the quinoa a little fluff with a spoon.  If it is not cooked through and very fluffy at this point, I usually add about ½ a cup of water or broth and give it another 5 minutes.  I find it usually takes 4-5 cups of liquid simmering for 20-25 minutes to get 2 cups dry quinoa to perfect fluffiness.

Meanwhile, heat the other 1 T. oil in a pan over medium heat.  When hot, sauté the chopped onion and the bell pepper for 2-3 minutes with salt + pepper.  Add frozen corn, coat with a few shakes of each of the spices, and allow to roast for a minute or two before flipping with a wide spatula to roast the other side.  Add garlic and green onion stir into the mixture, sautéing for a minute.

When the quinoa is cooked, add the sautéed mixture to the quinoa, along with the diced tomatoes, beans, cilantro, and the rest of the seasonings.  Heat through over medium-low heat for several minutes or until the extra tomato liquid cooks into the quinoa and the cilantro softens.  Finally, add the cheese and stir into the quinoa to melt evenly. 

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Plate the quinoa and garnish with a little cilantro and green onions, and the lime for the guests to squeeze on top of the quinoa. 

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Courtney Nielsen

I'm Courtney, your friendly fitness + healthy recipe blogger. I am a certified fitness professional who loves bringing tasty food to the table and sharing my recipes with the world.