Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quinoa Bites with Lemony Sun-Dried Tomato Mayo Dip

I am a huge fan of quinoa.  Quinoa is a grain-like food that is unique in that unlike most plant-based foods, it provides a complete protein. What this means is that it is a source of all nine essential amino acids, in the right proportions, to support a person's nutritional needs.  Usually you would need to combine two foods (rice and beans, for instance) in order to make up a complete protein, but quinoa does this on its own.  While it resembles a grain and it is cooked pretty much the same way we cook rice, it's not actually a cereal grain.  It's actually a seed and it's related to spinach, swiss-chard and beets.  Quinoa originates from the Andes mountain region of South America, where it was cultivated as long as 5,000 years ago. To this day, most of the quinoa in the world comes from the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia.  Why it only became popular in the last decade or so, is beyond me.  It's a super-food for those with celiac and those who are limiting their carbohydrate intake, but unlike other super-healthy foods, quinoa actually tastes good.  It's not overpowering or distinctive in any way and sort of acts as a neutral background and takes on any flavor you add to it.  Quinoa is the perfect alternative for rice, mashed potatoes or even pasta.  I use it not only as a base for hearty salads, but as a side dish to grilled fish, chicken or even as a bed for meatballs and tomato sauce.

I came across an interesting recipe about six months ago and adapted it to the ingredients that I had in my refrigerator.  It's super easy and you can have them on the table less than twenty-five minutes.  Lo and behold, my kids loved them and while they are great to eat all year round, they are also kosher for Passover...

Quinoa Bites with Lemony Sun-Dried Tomato Mayo Dip

For the bites:

1 1/2 c. quinoa, cooked according to package instructions
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red pepper, diced 
1/2 large red onion, diced
3 handfuls of spinach, wilted and chopped, or three frozen spinach 'cakes', defrosted and chopped
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Italian herb spice (or dried basil, oregano and parsley)
Pepper to taste


3 heaping tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. preserved lemon sauce
2 tsp. sun-dried tomato paste in olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare quinoa according to package instructions. (It's very important to rinse the dried quinoa very well before cooking, as it removes the soapy taste that sometimes lingers if it's not rinsed well). Set aside to cool.  (I've laid out specific instructions as to how I cook quinoa in a separate post, but most packages come with instructions printed on the back of the package.)

While the quinoa is cooking, set your oven to 350 degrees.  Take 2 mini cupcake trays and spray with Pam.  In a large frying pan on medium-high heat, sauté the red onion and red pepper in the olive oil until softened, golden at the edges and fragrant.  Let cool.  Add to cooked quinoa along with the spinach and spices.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in whisked eggs until mixed in evenly.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon quinoa mixture into each mini cupcake indentation and press down with back of spoon to pack it in tightly.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool.  To remove from pan, run a sharp knife around each quinoa bite to loosen it from the pan and they should pop out.

For the dip, combine the mayonnaise with the preserved lemon sauce and the sun-dried tomato paste and mix well.  Serve quinoa bites at room temperature or slightly warmed with dipping sauce on the side.  Garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley or coriander.  Makes about 48 bites.

You can substitute any vegetables and spices and experiment with different flavors and textures.  Some ideas:
Mushroom, leeks and onions
Beet, arugula and caramelized onion 
Sweet potato and onion
Grated zucchini, yellow pepper and red onion
You can even make it dairy and add cheese!  Have fun with them!

1 comment:

  1. These are delish! I have also added a can of tuna or salmon to the mix. It is great!