Thirty Minute Thursdays: Quinoa Vegetable Stacks

Most of Rachael Ray’s recipes are fuss-free. They’re straight-up, straight-forward, and downright simple. Mostly. I like this about her recipes. Sometimes, I like putting on heirs and pretending I’m some gourmet chef who owns half a dozen Zagat-rated, 5 star restaurants peppering the entire globe. Like when I decided to make that ridiculously elaborate graduation cake. But a lot of times, it’s just nice to get in the kitchen, throw around some pots, pans, and ingredients, and come out with something perfectly edible though perhaps not all that photogenic.

I was a little surprised, then, when I encountered this recipe in Rachael Ray’s cookbook – couscous and vegetable stacks seemed entirely too fussy amidst the burgers, “sammies,” “stoups” and semi-homemade (oh wait, that’s another FoodNetwork show…) desserts. As good as the dish sounded, it took a while for me to get up the motivation to attempt it.

Rachael Ray’s approach to the stacking process is cumbersome, and antiquated as it tells you to use metal cans with their tops and bottoms removed. Cans aren’t made that way anymore – the bottoms don’t come off. Believe me, I tried. And tried. And handed the can to my mom to try some more. Don’t bother. Really, it’s way more involved than it needs to be. In the final throes of cooking, as I became more and more desperate to get food on the plate and into my belly, I did the biggest hack job of stacking I could think of – I just threw it on the plate. Almost, very nearly, quite literally. And you know what?

It worked. Beautifully.

So take that, Mr. Fussy Veggie Stack. This is how we do things Floptimism style.

Also à la Floptimism, I changed a bunch of the ingredients. It tasted fantastic. I also paired it with some chicken (for the parents) and a nice chickpea and almond salad (for all of us, but really, mostly for me).

Quinoa and Vegetable Stacks
This vegetarian dish is light, healthy, and bursting with summer-ness. That is, it would, if it were possible for a food to burst of a season. It is mildly labor intensive, but a lot easier to put together than the original and overall very doable. Enjoy!

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 25-30 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

The Ingredients
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium eggplant, sliced ½-inch thick
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced on an angle
2 bell peppers, any color, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped and crushed
dried thyme, to taste
3 cups water
3 tablespoons no-sodium added bouillon
1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed
6 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoons dried oregano and basil, mixed
6 slices red onion, ½-inch thick
12 slices of tomatoes

The Method
Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit and add the garlic and olive oil to a small skillet set over low heat. Heat the olive oil just to let the garlic infuse into it; do not let the garlic brown. Set aside.

Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, and peppers on baking sheets, allowing ample space around the slices to prevent steaming. Brush both sides with the garlic-infused oil1 and season with rosemary and thyme, then place in the hot oven and roast until tender, 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through.

Add the water, bouillon and quinoa to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the ring around the quinoa seed pops out, approximately 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese and dried herbs, and keep warm over low heat.

When the peppers have blistered, remove and set aside to cool before peeling off the skins.2 Once peeled, cut each pepper half into thirds. Turn off the oven but leave the rest of the vegetables inside to keep warm.

Place the skillet you used for the oil back on the burner set over medium-high heat. Brush the onion slices with some of the oil and add them along with the roasted peppers to the pan.3Sear on all sides until the onions are just tender.

Assemble the stacks: place 2 slices of tomato onto a plate, followed by 2 slices of eggplant. Pack ½ cup of the quinoa into the measuring cup and invert on top of the eggplant.4Lay 1-2 strips of roasted pepper over the quinoa, followed by the zucchini. Garnish with 2 slices of red onion. Repeat with the remaining 5 plates.

Source, adapted: Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals

1You will likely not need all of the oil. Feel free to store any extras in a cool, dark place for future use. I’ve kept mine in the fridge and although it’s gotten significantly more viscous since I made it due to chilling it, it still tastes good.
2I’ve heard that you can stick roasted peppers in a bag to cool and the peels slip right off. I haven’t tried this – I seem to prefer the method that involves tongs, impatience and a few burnt fingertips.
3I did this with all of the veggies, and after charring them simply stuck them in a container and kept them warm in the toaster oven. I don’t know that it’s necessary, so I left it out of the recipe, but feel free to add the zucchini and eggplant to the hot pan if you like.
4The cheese should hold the quinoa together the way that brown sugar holds its measuring cup shape when packed.

Disclaimer: Yes, the lighting in this picture is atrocious. No, there was not more than one even semi-usable shot from this night. (Yes, this is the least offensive of the three I took.) Remember me talking about being in the desperate throes of getting dinner on the table and then into my stomach? That's also my explanation for this picture. I'm sorry. You'll also note that my stack is upside down. It's really not. Rachael Ray just thought the tomatoes would look better on top. They don't. Put them on the bottom. You won't regret it. All this to say, please don't judge this dish on my dimly lit, impatiently snapped photograph. It looks pretty in real life, and not a hot mess. It tastes delicious, too. That is all.

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