Quinoa and black bean stuffed peppers with feta, olives and sun-dried tomato

I know I promised to steer clear of yuppie “superfoods”. But quinoa is becoming mainstream these days. No longer relegated to “organic health food boutiques”, you can find it for a reasonable price at many supermarkets and bulk food stores. It’s a high quality, complete protein (containing all essential amino acids), a rarity among vegetarian protein sources. And it’s versatile; with a mild, nutty flavour, you can use it pretty much anywhere you’d use rice (and boost the nutritional value). Quinoa flour can also substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baking. I’ve also had good results substituting cooked quinoa for up to half the flour in muffins (like these ones). I’ll even swap a bowl of cereal for quinoa with yogurt, fruit, nuts and cinnamon.

My latest quinoa concoction was stuffed peppers with a Mexican-Italian identity crisis. I don’t tend to follow recipes. Not because I’m some culinary boy wonder (ha!), but because there is a certain thrill and spontaneous pleasure to cooking off-script. I think recipes are better viewed as ideas or guidelines than hard-and-fast instructions. So go ahead and add/modify/omit ingredients with impunity.

Before we begin, I recommend checking out this definitive guide on how to prepare cooked quinoa, the various health benefits and different varieties.

Ingredients

  • ~3 c. cooked quinoa (~1 c. dry)
  • 3-4 peppers (depending on size, bonus points for different colours)
  • 1 onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • ~2 c. mushrooms (portobello are great)
  • a handful of spinach
  • 1 tomato
  • a few sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 can black beans (or chickpeas/lentils/kidney beans/TVP)
  • olive oil
  • feta cheese
  • sliced olives (kalamata are good)
  • 2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar and/or lime juice
  • ketchup and/or salsa
  • spices: black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, cilantro, basil…
  • optional grated cheese for topping (e.g., cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan)

Instructions

1. Cook quinoa. Don’t know how? Instructions below.

2. Cut peppers in half, keeping the stems. Remove seeds and ribs.

3. Dice onion, garlic and mushrooms. Fry lightly in olive oil for a few minutes then remove from heat.

4. Chop spinach and fresh and sun-dried tomatoes. Mix with quinoa. Add rinsed, drained beans. Mix in feta, olives, vinegar/lime juice, ketchup/salsa and spices to taste.

5. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and pack with filling. Lightly cover with a sheet of foil and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 45-50 minutes.

Optional: Grate cheese on top and garnish with dash of paprika or cilantro. Enjoy!

Spicing: I won’t give instructions for spicing since people’s tastes vary widely and the freshness of spices affects their properties (e.g., dried vs. frozen vs. fresh). The only way to spice food is to add a little, sample and repeat as needed.

Ketchup! I add ketchup to lots of recipes (soups, curries, sauces…), but I usually do it furtively when no one else is in the kitchen. While ketchup may be considered unsophisticated, it’s essentially just tomato paste and spices, and it’s a shortcut to add flavour. But you risk instant loss of foodie cred!

Cooking quinoa: There are a number of different methods to cook quinoa. Here’s a fantastic guide on how to prepare cooked quinoa. There is a very fine line between perfectly cooked and overcooked quinoa. Unlike some other grains, a couple extra minutes on the burner will turn quinoa into mushy pablum. Keep an eye on it!

This is the third post in a series, Endurance Eats, where I share healthy vegetarian recipes for hard-training athletes.