It’s taken a long time for me to get comfy in the kitchen. I was mostly capable of following a recipe (Tim sometimes teases me about my unwillingness to stray from a recipe if I’m using one), though timing has never been my strong suit in culinary matters. Tim and I cooked together a lot when we started dating (we still do) and that built up my skill set and confidence, but it has only been recently that I’ve felt capable of throwing together certain dishes without the benefit of a specific recipe, even to use as a jumping off point.
Quinoa has been a big part of that leap for me, because it’s so versatile. Once I learned the basic fundamentals of working with it, I felt like I could experiment a lot more. I still follow recipes for some salads (I’ve made this one a couple of times, and my first experience with quinoa was Mark Bittman’s quinoa and sweet potato salad), but now if we’re scratching our heads about what to make for dinner, I know that I can always work with whatever veggies we’ve got and cook up a skillet of quinoa and not panic over whether we’ve got this ingredient or that.
Last night I pulled out this technique and I thought it might be nice to share with you. I’d been working on a project and when I was losing the light, I decided to call it quits for the evening and see what I could put together for dinner. I wasn’t sure when Tim would be back from his run, but I knew I could prep the quinoa pretty fast and keep it warm if he was much later. I’ll share what I did with you, but keep in mind that this technique is unbelievably flexible, so the seasoning and ingredient combinations are endless.
We had some butternut squash that Tim had diced for a previous recipe, but the squash was ginormous and we hadn’t used it all. I knew I wanted to use it up, as it was a few weeks old at that point, and I spotted a zucchini in our produce basket, so that was the basis. I diced up a few small onions and cloves of garlic and tossed those with the cubed butternut squash into a skillet with a generous swirl of olive oil. I added a large pinch of dried oregano and cumin, but the spices are so easy to adapt to the character of the other ingredients you’re using. After onions and garlic got a little soft, I measured out a cup and a half of quinoa and added it to the skillet, stirring it around to coat it with the oil a little. (I’ve heard coating the grain in oil referred to as a “pilaf method.”) I added 3 cups of veggie stock, because the basic rule of thumb with quinoa is to add twice as much water as dry grain. I lowered the heat to a simmer and covered the skillet, but stirred the mixture occasionally for good measure. The quinoa takes about 20 minutes to cook up, so in the meantime I chopped the zucchini and added it, and then tore apart some kale that I found in the crisper to incorporate some green. Towards the end of the cooking time, I added part of a package of frozen corn and chopped up some walnuts for texture, and stirred those in as well. Tim got home and added some chickpeas that we had already cooked in the fridge, for extra protein. Those heated through while he sautéed himself a red pepper in a separate skillet (because, bleh, I do not do bell peppers) and then we sat down to eat.
And that’s it! Skillet quinoa is super easy to adapt with whatever you have on hand. You can tweak the seasonings or use fresh herbs to change the flavor of the dish totally. The “rules” I try to keep in mind are just to use 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or stock, to add veggies that benefit from sauteing (like onions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, etc) first, and introduce any veggies that will take longer to cook early in the process, so they have enough time to get nice and soft. I’m sure you could add meat to this, but I have no tips on that for you. You can totally add veggies as you go, after the quinoa is simmering, especially things that might be delicate and not need as long to cook. If you dig cheese (Tim emphatically does not), feel free to grate your favorite over the top or toss cubes or crumbles in when serving, which I totally did with my leftovers at work for lunch today. The quinoa should cook up in about 20 minutes or so (most of the water will be absorbed, and the quinoa has a little “tail” which will be more evident when it’s cooked), so even with some chopping, this is a pretty speedy meal. It’s a go-to when I am stumped as to what to do for dinner and know we need leftovers for lunches (this made about 6 servings, but your yield may vary, depending on what veggies you use and how much dry quinoa went in). Skillet quinoa is also great as a side dish if you have some other protein in mind for the main course.
Sorry, just had to show off that I am practically a real-life grown-up who can handle cooking without a recipe! (I am aware that I am almost 30 and need to stop referring to myself as “practically a grown-up.” Maybe next year.) Will share more of these kinds of flexible techniques as I make them!