What the hell is quinoa, you ask? It’s a grain-like food that is frequently thought to be related to grains like rice, maize, and wheat. However quinoa, which is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium sp.), is really more closely related to plants such as spinach and beets than grains. As such, it packs a ton of nutritional benefits including being a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a great source of manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, Vitamin E, and fiber. Other benefits of quinoa are that it is easy to cook, cooks in 15 minutes, and it is versatile, making for a quick side dish when paired with other ingredients of your choice.
If you don’t have access to quinoa, rice and barely are great substitutes in this dish. But no matter if you use quinoa or a grain, this casserole is delicious, filling, and is a quick and hearty meal for the family. The main benefit with quinoa, though, is as an alternative source for meat-like protein. In areas where meat is particularly expensive, if you are trying to eat healthier forms of protein, or if you’re a vegetarian, it’s hard to beat the benefits of quinoa.
(This recipe serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a side dish. Double it to serve 4 as a meal!)
- 1 package frozen spinach
- 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, cooked following package instructions and set aside until assembly (substitute rice or barley if you like).
- 1 cup cheese, grated (we used white cheddar, but you can use whatever cheese you wish, or a combination of cheeses)
- 3 slices bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes (if you don’t like spicy food, use chili flakes only to taste)
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 375F oven
Remove your spinach from the package and place it in a colander to thaw and drain. I generally place a heavy bowl on top of the spinach to press out the extra moisture as it thaws–it’s like killing three birds with one stone (thawing, draining, and pressing). I’m lazy like that.
After your spinach has thawed, place it in a bowl large enough to accommodate the spinach and your remaining ingredients. Then take your chopped bacon and saute it in a skillet until cooked through and as crisp as you like it. Remove the bacon and set aside onto a paper towel-lined dish. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of the bacon fat.
Add to the skillet your chopped onion, garlic, parsley, and chili flakes and cook until the onions are wilted and browned. Deglaze your pan with the wine and add everything to the bowl along with your spinach. Also add your quinoa (or rice or barley), cooked bacon, grated cheese (reserve some for the top), salt, and pepper. Mix well to incorporate.
Preheat your oven to 375F. While the oven is preheating, let your ingredients sit for about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid that accumulates in the bowl by tilting the bowl and using a large spoon to hold the ingredients in as you pour off the liquid. You don’t want it all to be bone dry, but you don’t want your casserole to be watery, either.
Transfer your mix into an appropriately sized baking dish and sprinkle the top with your reserved cheese. Place, uncovered, in your preheated 375F oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly and everything is heated through (about 20 to 30 minutes).