Lunchbox idea and recipes: Fluffy, spiced quinoa and quick chicken cacciatore

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad - an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad – an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

I fell in love today. With quinoa. Seriously.

It took me a while of experimenting with different types of quinoa and various recipes, but it has always been touch and go. Sometimes fluffy, most times soggy and a little gritty. In spite of this, I bought a new batch of quinoa during my last trip to the organic shop. I desperately want to like quinoa, and I want my family to like quinoa too because of its nutritional content. It would be good to have some other alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes. So, last night I blog hopped, trying to find new recipes, new methods of cooking this wunderseed. At almost 10 pm, I hit upon a website that had great step by step instructions on how to cook the perfect, fluffy quinoa, every time. It actually got me so excited to try the method out that it was hard to fall asleep.

So, this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I tackled the quinoa. While I tweaked the recipe a little to suit my son’s palate, I followed the instructions to a “T”. The result… wow!!! Fluffy, tasty, soft yet with a little bite to every kernel, (can I say kernel?) It’s not unlike well fluffed couscous but with the added benefit of a really nice, rich, nutty flavour – not a single clump to be seen.

I decided to pair the quinoa with a rich and thick cacciatore made with chicken thigh fillets. Again, the recipe has been modified somewhat – sans alcohol, of course. A cup of steamed broccoli and cauliflower completed the lunchbox combo.  It was all I could do to not have a bowl of dear son’s lunch there and then – just a teeny bit of taste you know, just to make sure that it’s ok for him. Ha! Anyway, I could no longer stop myself by 10 am – whatever was leftover is now gone. All I can say is… try this. I would so have this combo for dinner, (and breakfast, and lunch,) every other day. As for the quinoa… if it were not so expensive, it would replace rice as the staple food in this household.

So… on to the recipe:

Fluffy spiced quinoa (for in-depth step-by-step instruction and photos hop on over to lunchboxbunch.com)

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons quinoa (rinse till water runs clear and drain)
  • mix together – 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic – smash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup and 2/3 water
  1. After the quinoa is drained, add the spice mixture to the wet quinoa. Mix well.
  2. Heat the pan and with low heat, gently sautee the garlic. Careful not to brown.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan. Stir for a minute or two.
  4. Add water. Let it come to the boil. Cover the pot and bring heat down so that the water simmers gently.
  5. Leave the pot alone for 12 to 15 minutes, (do not touch, take off the lid, peep, whatever.)
  6. Turn off the heat. Walk away again. For another 15 minutes. Let the quinoa plump up further with residual liquid and steam.
  7. After the 15 minutes are up, take off the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Not spoon. Fork.
  8. Ta-dah!!! You have a bowl of the good stuff. Ready for yumminess!

Quick and easy chicken cacciatore

  • Skinless fillet from 3 chicken thighs – cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 garlic – chopped fine
  • 1/2 red bell pepper – chopped roughly
  • 1/2 of 400 gm can tomatoes
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of pitted black olives – sliced
  • a handful of parsley – chopped
  • salt, sugar and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil and sautee chicken pieces for about 5 minutes till brown. Remove from pan and drain.
  2. Add to the pan the onion and garlic, stir till softened, add red bell pepper. Stir.
  3. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add tomatoes and the rest of the stock. Let it come to boil and add chicken pieces.
  5. Simmer gently till sauce thickens. Season and add parsley.

Recipe for lunchbox: Salmon and herb filo parcels, wholemeal pasta in pesto sauce

Dear son came home  and burst into the kitchen… urrr well… the rather messy kitchen as I was trying to get dinner done and on the dining table. I was cooking Asian food, and you know how messy that can get… grrrrr. However, the interruption was worth it, as his next sentence was:

“Mama, I really, really, really, really looooooooove my lunch today! Thank you.”

Apparently he loved everything that was in his lunchbox and wondered when he could have it again. Whether this was due to the fact that the food was really nice, or because he was ravenous after his 2 hours of pre-school swimming session, I will never know. I am just happy that he enjoyed the meal enough to let me know that the lunchbox combo was a winner.

I use the same base for the herb marinade and pesto sauce – not just for the sake of convenience, it also ensures that the flavours are complementary. Here are the recipes for the said lunchbox menu:

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Salmon and herb filo parcels:

  • 200 – 250 gms skinned salmon fillet – cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 sheets of filo pastry
  • some olive oil for brushing

Blend fine the following:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and pat dry the prepared salmon
  2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the blended mixture on salmon pieces
  3. Cut each of the filo pastry into 2, and brush with olive oil
  4. Place a piece of the marinated salmon in the middle of one of the filo pastry half – wrap and brush the  outside with more olive oil. Repeat till all salmon is wrapped.
  5. Bake the salmon parcels in pre-heated 180 degree celsius oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.

Wholemeal Pasta in Pesto Sauce:

To the remaining basil and coriander marinade above, add the following and blend fine:

  • 10 raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. If mixture is too thick, adjust with more olive oil.
  2. Boil half a cupful of dry wholemeal pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss in pesto sauce. I sprinkle the top with some grated emmental cheese for extra flavour.
  3. Serve with grilled cherry tomatoes.