Quinoa Bowl

Joan's one and only nap of the day tends to be around midday. Some days we'll have lunch before she goes down, other days her need to sleep creeps up on me and I'll quickly fill her tummy with toast or fruit, saving our meal for when she wakes. Often times, that meal is a bowl of quinoa with vegetables. 

At some point over the years, quinoa became my favourite grain to cook and eat. It's not the cheapest food out there, but I enjoy it so thoroughly that I always find myself adding it to my grocery list. Aside from the flavour and texture, both of which are pleasing to me, I also appreciate its generous protein content and all the goodness contained inside the little seeds. Joan isn't a big meat eater (we're not big meat eaters in the first place, and even when we do serve it up she rarely devours it) and quinoa gives her a bundle of plant-based nutrients to help her thrive. She enjoys it, too! Most of the time, that is. My daughter is fairly accepting of the foods I serve her, which makes my job easy, however she isn't always thrilled to see quinoa and vegetables in her bowl. Given the choice, she'd absolutely eat a block of butter instead (she really, really likes butter). However from the beginning it's been important to me that I continue to expose Joan to more complex flavours. Pasta is easy to love, but quinoa? Well, that is more of an acquired taste. So I kept serving it up, alongside food I knew she would enjoy, and now she *mostly* gobbles it up, especially if I ensure she has a decent appetite prior to her meal.

The sustainability of this popular grain is worth investigating. Indeed it appears we could do with greater biodiversity, as is the case with many crops out there. Perhaps the answer is to support Australian-grown quinoa? That seems like a good place to start. Here today, I simply want to talk about how I assemble the quinoa bowls that so frequently appear on my instagram feed. I've certainly written about my feel good bowls on the blog before, including why I eat them and my favourite ingredients to use (see these two posts), but one thing I haven't gone into detail about is my quinoa cooking method. And because this seems to be the main request I receive when posting pictures of my lunch on Instagram, I thought I'd provide some more practical information, along with notes on my current favourite ingredients. Because like Joan, my tastes change as I grow.


Quinoa: let's start with the main ingredient. When cooking quinoa, I like to make a big batch. Having a container of cooked grains in my fridge means I can very easily assemble meals. I mostly use water as the cooking liquid, however sometimes I'll use homemade chicken broth and OH MY GOODNESS that extra step makes quinoa taste so good. I tend to only do this if we are unwell or I have a surplus of stock, because to me, stock is precious liquid gold! Though freezing stock in ice-cube trays makes it easy to pop a couple of stock cubes into the pot alongside the quinoa and water and get a little brothy goodness in there. In terms of how long the quinoa lasts in the fridge, we usually eat a batch over three days, though I have been known to eat five-day-old quinoa (note, I wouldn't give Joan quinoa that has been sitting that long). The steps below are for 1 cup of dry quinoa, however if I'm cooking for more than Joan and myself, I will do 2 cups.

STEP 1: rinse 1 cup dry quinoa in a fine strainer under cold water.
STEP 2: place the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan and cover with just over 2 cups water (I find 2 cups to be slightly too little liquid, so I'll add a dash more). Bring to the boil.
STEP 3: once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer with the lid partially on. Cook for 7-10 minutes until the quinoa has mostly absorbed the water and it begins to look fluffy and less like a little seed (add a splash of water if it's not cooked enough and continue cooking for a further minute).
STEP 4: take the pot off the heat, place the lid on and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes. This step is important, as it ensures all the water is absorbed, leaving you with lovely, fluffy quinoa. And while "fluffy quinoa" may sound undesirable, it's actually what you want. 

Green vegetable: I always like to add something green to my meals for the fresh flavour and valuable nutrients, as well as the aesthetics. Sometimes it's just a handful of parsley, but more often than not it's a pile of rocket (I'm really into rocket at the moment), steamed broccoli (which I cook a couple of times a week to have on hand for snacks and meals) or frozen peas (which I defrost simply by pouring boiling water over them).

Grated vegetable: I love to add grated carrot, beetroot or zucchini to my salads. It provides a wonderful textural contrast to the other ingredients in the bowl, and is a great way to extend the veggie, making it appear as though I have a big mound when really it's just a quarter of a zucchini. We mostly buy organically-grown veg, which isn't cheap, and so I like to make them last as long as possible!

Roasted vegetable: along with prepping a bunch of steamed broccoli and carrots for snacking during the week, I also tend to roast one or two trays of veggies to have on hand for meals. Usually I'll cook pumpkin or sweet potato, because, flavour-wise, they are in my top ten foods. I just love them! They're also two items I can get locally at an affordable price. 

Legumes, egg or canned fish: along with the veggies and quinoa, I'll usually add one of the following ingredients (sometimes two, depending on my hunger level): canned or home-cooked legumes (often chickpeas, lentils, cannellini or black beans), 1 or 2 eggs (scrambled or fried, because that's how I like my eggs) or canned fish. Oil-packed salmon or tuna are my go-to (fish in oil tastes much better, in my opinion, than fish packed in springwater), but I'm trying to eat more sardines, as they're a more sustainable choice. I always look for wild-caught fish and LOVE the flavour of this brand, but rarely buy it as it's quite expensive. I mostly buy John West salmon (they claim to use wild-caught salmon), which is far more affordable.

Toasted seeds: the simple addition of toasted seeds makes these sort of salady meals infinitely more delicious. I favour sunflower seeds and pepitas, and toast them in a skillet until fragrant. In terms of quantity my view is the more, the better! 

Dressing: I rarely make a salad dressing because it just seems like an extra jar to wash. Instead I'll simply drizzle/glug some good quality extra virgin olive oil over the top and either squeeze a lemon or sprinkle a little apple cider vinegar. I'll also always add sea salt.

Other ingredients: 
- If I have a red or salad onion on hand (and if I remember to reach for it) I'll dice that up and sprinkle it on top. 
- Lately I've been making my way through some jars of kraut that I was kindly sent from Vital Biome, and have loved the sharp flavour it provides.
- Occasionally I'll add cheese (goats, feta, haloumi or cheddar), but cheese can be expensive and because we're in super savings mode for the next couple of years, cheese has become a luxury.
- Although I love avocado, I don't add it to these kind of meals as I tend to eat it at breakfast, either on toast or in a smoothie (though if I'm lucky and we have a surplus, I'll definitely add some).
- Sometimes, I'll drizzle tahini over the top, such as when I've added a few falafel to the bowl. I buy a super runny tahini from Terra Madre (which is where I buy all my grains/nuts/legumes, etc at a great price), and it drizzles perfectly without needing to whizz it into a dressing with water and lemon juice.
- I also sometimes add hemp seeds to my meal, especially if I've skipped the fish or eggs, as it gives an extra hit of protein and luscious fats.
- Lastly, I'm working on a vegetable garden, so I'll hopefully soon be throwing lots of parsley and basil into my meals.

Joan bowls: Joan mostly eats the same meals as Ben and I, with a few minor adjustments. I won't change the base (i.e. quinoa, veggies, legumes/egg/fish), however I occasionally skip the embellishments. Take seeds, for example. Joan has started eating toasted pepitas, and adores them, but I don't serve her sunflower seeds, as they remain a little hard and hazardous. Joan has tasted sauerkraut before, however she remains greatly offended by its existence, and so while I continue to put a tiny amount on her plate, she won't touch it. She LOVES extra virgin olive oil, though, so I add a good drizzle to her quinoa, along with some lemon juice. I find this makes it easier to spoon up, and therefore less likely to go all over the floor and in the cracks of her high chair. Serving canned fish over the quinoa also helps in this regard. To make her meal more flavourful, I like to sprinkle a little sea salt over the top. Joan eats very few pre-packaged foods and doesn't like cheese (weirdo), so her salt intake is very low and I'm happy to season her foods to make them tastier. 


There we go, folks! Our current, quick-to-assemble quinoa bowl, which we regularly eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If quinoa isn't your jam, swap it out for another filling food like rice, millet, couscous or legumes. Or perhaps put all the ingredients in a sandwich or roll! Do whatever makes your mind and body happy. Life is far too short to eat food you don't enjoy.

Heidi xo