Earlier this year, I was innocently wandering through the grocery store, filling up my cart, when I spotted a turquoise box with a picture of what looked like a rice pilaf next to a filet of grilled salmon, the words “gluten-free,” “cooks in 10 to 15 minutes” and “organic” staring me in the face. I’d heard of quinoa before, never tried it, and the whole idea intrigued me.
Do you already like/eat quinoa? Apparently, it’s good for you—like, crazy good for you—with the texture of a grain and the pedigree of spinach and Swiss chard. It offers what’s called a complete protein to your diet, composed of all nine essential amino acids, including ones that help build and repair tissues, and it’s been said to alleviate migraine headaches, reduce the risk of breast cancer, lower your chances of diabetes. Those facts alone should have made me like quinoa, I know, but I’m afraid to say that’s not the case. When I came home that night, I tried it, watching what looked like couscous boil on my stove, fluffing it with a fork when it was done, but, kind of like reading the first page of a book or wearing a new shirt one time, this initial experience left me unimpressed, and I tucked it away.
You know, just because you should like something doesn’t mean you will, and this is true of food, of people, of new work schedules and of periods of waiting. I imagine too that this is what frustrates some people about so-called healthy eating. Just as in life, sometimes you should push through it and keep trying, train yourself to change your perspective. But also just as in life, sometimes, while it’s helpful to tell yourself all the reasons why something is already good, it’s also helpful to find a way to make it better.
So it’s been for me and quinoa. I don’t much care for it on its own and not even with pine nuts and raisins mixed inside. But one way I do like it—one way I love it—is mixed with roasted vegetables (is there anything they don’t make better?) and steamed kale, covered in lemon juice and filled with chunks of sheep’s milk feta cheese. It’s fresh and clean, it’s creamy and tart, it’s packed with flavor in every bite.
Let me tell you: this whole quinoa experience has been liberating. The day after I made it, I pulled a dusty, unread book out of my nightstand and headed to the grass, stretching out on a blanket while I flipped through chapters. It seems what roasted vegetables and feta are to quinoa, warm summer afternoons are to difficult books, the kind I’ve been meaning to pull out and read all year.
Here’s to them both.
Roasted Tomato & Zucchini Quinoa Bowl
Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen!
Just in case you’re also new to quinoa, one quick note: it’s not only available in a box, and if you want to try a small amount, I recommend the bulk bins at Whole Foods.
5 grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (I think I’d double this next time)
1/2 a big zucchini, sliced horizontally into rounds
Sea salt and pepper
1 Cup Quinoa, dry
3 pieces (leaves?) of kale
5-ounce block of sheep’s milk feta cheese, chilled
Begin by roasting the tomatoes and zucchini on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzling them with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, turning the zucchini once.
After vegetables are roasted, cook the cup of quinoa with two cups of water over the stove and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, adding the kale right on top of the quinoa so it steams and softens. Remove the kale to a cutting board and chop roughly.
Move the cooked quinoa to a medium-sized bowl and fluff with a fork. Chop the roasted vegetables and add them to the quinoa. Add the chopped kale. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the juice of an entire lemon all over the dish and add about a tablespoon of olive oil.
Chop the feta into small pieces and toss with the salad. Because everything’s still warm, the feta melts into the vegetables and quinoa, creating a wonderful texture throughout. Dish may also be refrigerated and served cold.