First, I have to tell you that I tried really hard to think of a name for this other than 'Cheesy Quinoa'. But other than 'Creamy Cheesy Quinoa', which is worse, I couldn't come up with anything. So 'Cheesy Quinoa' it is.
I love quinoa. It is one of the best things I've discovered in 2012. It's so easy to cook, it tastes fantastic, it's a nutrition powerhouse, and it's really, really versatile. I have found though, that like rice, you have to fiddle with the water amount and cooking time until you find what works for you. Through trial and error I've found that I need less water and more cooking time than on the directions for both brands I've tried. If you make some and find that it's too wet, or too crunchy, or mushy, don't give up. Keep trying until you get it just right; quinoa is definitely a food you want in your diet.
This is a super side dish, and it was perfect with the pork and roasted cauliflower I made tonight. Though, with it's higher-than-other-grains protein, you can totally get away with eating it with a nice salad and calling it dinner.
For this recipe I altered the sauce for my Mac and Cheese a bit and it worked out just right. If you like a strong cheese flavor, make sure you use a sharp or extra-sharp cheddar. If you or your kids prefer a more mild flavor, try a medium or mild cheddar. Also, it's worth spending a little extra on a good brand of cheese (my favorite is Tillamook). Cheaper cheeses can behave badly when melted into a sauce, and the last thing you want is naughty sauce.
3/4 cup dry quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup 2% milk
3 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
extra cheese for serving, if desired
1. Place the dry quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well. Drain, removing as much water as you can. Combine the quinoa, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed (I have to go all the way to 20 minutes). Remove heat and set aside for 10 minutes, or until you're ready to add it to the cheese sauce.
2. While the quinoa cooks, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and let it melt, then add the flour. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes.
3. Add the milk, stirring to combine well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened a bit (drag your spoon or spatula along the bottom of the pan, and it should take a 2-3 seconds for the track to fill in), about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
4. Add the shredded cheese and gently stir until the cheese has melted. (If you stir too vigorously the cheese may separate and then you have a very sad sauce.) Add the cooked quinoa to the sauce and gently stir to combine. Serve with extra shredded cheese if you want.
Makes 4 side-dish servings.
*I have doubled this recipe and had plenty for dinner and left-overs the next day.