Friday, September 12, 2014

Gluten Free Quinoa with Spinach Pesto

Quinoa is one of those superfoods that everyone raves about, but many people are afraid to try it. They shouldn't be! It's delicious, and yes, it's vogue, but it's an ancient food that's been around for a really long time. It's similar to couscous, but with a heftier mouthfeel (heh heh). It can be a little bland on its own, so this (as well as my gluten-free quinoa "mac" 'n cheese) is a good introduction to this trendy South American staple.

This is a great light dish that can serve as the main meal or as a side dish. It can be served warm or cold, but I love it cold as a pasta salad alternative. The quinoa is packed with protein, and the spinach adds fiber plus a whole ton of nutrients like calcium and folate. You can also customize the pesto and add other vegetables to round out the flavors, or keep it simple. This pesto can be used on pasta or on top of meats, too.

2 cups quinoa
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 6-oz bag of baby spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
the juice of one lemon
1 cup carrots
2 cloves garlic, whole
6 basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

I use a rice cooker to make my quinoa. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, then dump it into the rice cooker. Add the broth, a dash of salt, and the garlic cloves. Push the button and sit back and relax. (This can be done ahead of time or the night before). Once it's done, scoop into a big mixing bowl (preferably metal) and let sit in the fridge.

In a food processor, add the baby spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, and carrots. Pulse until blended, then add the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add tomatoes at this point, if you'd like. If the consistency is not to your liking, you can add more spinach to thicken or lemon juice to thin it out.

Once the quinoa is completely cooled, you can mix in the pesto. You want to make sure it is completely cool or else the pesto can turn brown, and we're all about eating brightly colored pretty things. Once it is mixed completely, you can top with shavings of parmesan cheese. Whether you serve it warm or cold, this is a crowd-pleasing dish that travels well.

This pairs really nicely with a delicious medium-rare steak, or a chicken breast. You can get creative with your mix-ins, like tomatoes as I previously mentioned, or go Mediterranean and add sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

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