Mexican Chicken and Quinoa Casserole

Continuing my series on whole grains, let’s move onto quinoa.  Although quinoa is actually a seed rather than a grain, it’s used as and substituted for grains because it’s cooked like one.

As it is extremely nutritious, easy to prepare, and versatile due to its mild flavor, it has rightfully claimed its spot in pantries around the world.  Is yours one of them?  If not, perhaps after reading this post,  you may be persuaded to make it one of your staples.

Quinoa is unique in that it is a complete protein.  It is one of the rare non-animal products that provides all 9 essential amino acids.  What does this mean?  Many plant foods have incomplete proteins bc they lack one or more of the essential amino acids.  Therefore, you must consume it with another source that contains the amino acid that’s missing.  Both combined are called “complementary proteins.”

Food pairings that make up the complementary proteins are:

  • Legumes with grains, seeds, nuts, or dairy.  Examples: Black bean soup with whole wheat bread; hummus with pita bread
  • Grains with dairy.  Examples: whole grain cereal with milk; peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Dairy with nuts/seeds, legumes.  Examples: Yogurt with nuts; pasta with cheese and beans.

However, this isn’t to say that you have to be intentional about pairing them together at each meal.  As long as you eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of plant foods throughout the day, you should be set.  If not, then this is another reason to eat healthfully!  Do you really want to think about food combinations everytime you sit down to eat? ;)

In addition to quinoa being a complete protein, it is also an excellent source of…(to name a few):

  • Iron:  As part of proteins called hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells, it helps these proteins carry and release oxygen to tissues in the body.  It’s also necessary to make new cells, hormones, and neurotransmitters.
  • Magnesium:  Helps relax muscles and blood vessels.
  • Fiber:  We all know why we need fiber!  Regularity is key!  ;)
  • Manganese:  An essential mineral required to manufacture enzymes necessary for the metabolism of proteins and fats; has important antioxidant properties
  • Phosphorous and Copper:  Necessary for bone-buildling and help prevent osteoporosis
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I purchase mine from Costco. More bang for your buck!

So what does it taste like?  It is light, fluffy, and slightly nutty.   I like to rinse all my grains before I use them.  1 cup uncooked yields 3 1/2 cups cooked.   While white quinoa is the most common variety you’ll find, let’s not forget about red or the more intense black  quinoa.  However, pay close attention to some versions of red quinoa as they are not all strictly whole grains.  Purchase ones that are specifically labeled “whole grain.”

The basic cooking method is simple: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or broth of any kind.  Bring liquid to a boil then lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook until soft, about 15 min.

I like to cook a big batch of quinoa every Sunday so that I can use it in various recipes throughout the week.  It’s perfect in salads (esp ones with fruits), baked goods, stir-frys, and in this case casseroles….

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole

Mexican Chicken and Quinoa Casserole
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • 1 med yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs garlic, minced
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, no sodium added
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, cubed into small pieces
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 (1o oz) package of frozen spinach, thawed **
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 (7¾oz) can of your favorite salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • * As always, feel free to add or swap any vegetables to your liking. You can add broccoli, bell peppers, squash...
  • ** Make sure you squeeze out much water as possible.
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Cook quinoa: bring liquid to a boil then lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook until soft, about 15 min.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add 1 tsp EVOO and sauté onion until lightly browned, about 5 min. Add garlic, sauté for 1 min. Add the rest of the vegetables and combine well. Add tomato paste. Add chicken. Transfer mixture to a med bowl and stir in quinoa and beans.
  4. Add broth and salsa to the same pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 min, stirring occasionally. Combine to the mixture.
  5. Pour the mixture in 11 by 7 in baking dish coated w cooking spray. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Dig in!

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Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole

You can stop at this point if you don’t want to go through the trouble of baking it.  It makes for a perfect warm quinoa salad ;).  This time, thoughts of gooey cheese filled my head so I proceeded…

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I topped it with some homemade corn tortilla strips for some crunch.  This is an incredibly hearty and delightful recipe.  I will have to say, Tim did NOT like quinoa in the beginning, but lately he’s been telling me that he’s starting to like this “quinoa business,” as he calls it ;).  That’s good enough for me!

Question:

– Is quinoa one of your pantry staples?  If so, what are some of your favorite ways to enjoy it?

– If not, what’s stopping you? ;)  I highly encourage you to give it a try!

Lovely comments

  1. says

    I love quinoa! These little gems are really wonderful. Didn’t know about the complementary proteins until your post. Great information to know about what we eat. Your Black Bean and Chicken Quinoa Casserole looks amazing. What a delicious and healthy meal!

  2. says

    Quinoa is definitely a pantry staple, for all the lovely reasons you outline here, although sometimes I forget about it for brief periods and then get to have the joy of re-discovering it (so to speak) again. I get pleasure from simple things ;)

    This casserole looks fantastic!

  3. says

    Looks great… especially that layer of ooey gooey cheese on top. MMMMMM. We have a bag of quinoa at home but we rarely cook with it… i don’t know why! I would love to make a quinoa salad with it soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

      • says

        Hi Sandra, I’m not really sure exactly how Liz makes hers, but here’s what you can try. Bring water (or I like to use almond milk..you can also use regular milk if you prefer) to a boil, lower the heat, add rinsed quinoa. Here’s where you can get creative add various ingredients you like..For instance, I like to add cinnamon, vanilla extract, nutmeg, banana. Other suggestions – canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, berries, pumpkin pie spice, apples…sky is the limit! Cook until all the water’s been absorbed…should take about 15 min. Stir in nuts or seeds for some crunch. Hope this helps. Quinoa is amazing stuff so I hope you’ll enjoy it as well ;)

  4. says

    Minh!!! I am so sorry I haven’t said hi recently! I need to catch up on your life! How is school this semester? When do you start your internship? Fill me in, love! <3

    This casserole looks absolutely incredible. I just bookmarked it, and plan on making it for my small group when I cook dinner in two weeks. I may make two, actually–one with chicken and one without (for the vegetarians).

    Quinoa is one of my staples because it's so versatile and nutritious. Lately I've been cooking a huge batch every Sunday, so that I have it on hand for quick meals. I've even enjoyed it for breakfast a few mornings. It's delicious with scrambled eggs (kind of like fried rice), or with Greek yogurt/cottage cheese and fruit!

    I hope you're enjoying a relaxing weekend! Love you!! <3 xoxoxo

    • says

      Hi Sara! I shall def fill you in! let’s talk soon ;). Ooh I’ve thought about making it vegetarian as well. Perhaps you can add some extra beans and marinated tofu?
      I do the same thing! Quinoa is always great to have on hand. I always eat it for lunch or dinner. You’ve inspired me to try adding it to my yogurt as well in the morning. Miss you and ttys!

  5. Melissa says

    This recipe sounds fantastic! Planning to give it a shot very soon. The step where you simmer the broth and salsa the set aside…do you add it to the chicken mixture? Thanks again for such a great recipe!

    • says

      Hi, Melissa! I’m so sorry for the confusion. Just edited the directions right now. Yes, add the broth and salsa to the mixture and stir it in well. Hope you like it, and if you have time, please stop by and let me how it turned out! ;)

  6. says

    This looks delicious but you and I have the same problem with men!!! John is slowly adapting to things like Quinoa and other “healthier” options. Maybe one day he’ll take to liking this “quinoa business” but for now I’ll just be cooking up dishes like this delicious looking one and waiting for a miracle ;)

    • says

      Don’t give up! We just need to give them some time. It’s not easy to change someone’s food preferences, but it sure can happen ;).

  7. Kaitlyn says

    I just made this tonight and its delicious!!! And healthy :)) I added a small spoon of plain Greek yogurt (as a sub for sour cream) and a couple splashes of tapatio on top and it was perfect!!mu husband and I Plan on having it for lunch tommorrow!

    • says

      The addition of Greek yogurt is a brilliant idea! My husband and I also ate it for lunch the next day..and the next… ;). I’m glad you guys enjoyed it!

  8. Kandace says

    I don’t normally comment on blogs, but we made this last night and it was soooo wonderful! We made it vegetarian and only used butternut squash and sweet potato as the add ins. We couldn’t believe how delicious it was. It will definitely be a staple and we’ve already been discussing different veggies to try in it. Thanks for this recipe!

    • says

      Kandace, thank you so much for sharing with me how much you enjoyed this recipe! I love the fact that you turned it into a vegetarian meal! This is such a versatile recipe, and I do believe that it will taste great with just about anything ;).

  9. says

    Hi there. The current Food on Friday on Carole’s Chatter is collecting links to posts about Mexican dishes and flavours. I do hope you link this one in. This is the link . Please do pop back to check out some of the other links – there are a lot of good ones already. Have a great week.

  10. says

    Min, thank you for linking this in to Food on Friday. We have got a super collection of Mexican dishes. I hope you have stopped by some of the other links to check them out!

    Ps I have just signed up to follow your blog. A follow back to Carole’s Chatter would be wonderful – or have you already followed? Cheers

    • says

      In the past, I’ve submitted my recipes on another food site that provided me with the nutritional information. However, I stopped doing that as it was taking traffic away from my site. I haven’t figured out what tools I need to obtain the info. I’ll let you know as soon as I do!

  11. says

    It’s in the oven now…hubby & I enjoyed making this together…although I had to stop us both from eating it raw, tasted so good! Thanks for the recipe :)

    • says

      Hi Dana! You guys are not alone. I kept picking at it up until it went in the oven ^__^. I’m so glad you guys had a wonderful time making it! Enjoy!

  12. danakscully64 says

    This looked too interesting not to try (found on Pinterest). I was a little skeptical, but loved it! I’m a vegetarian, so I used vegetarian chik’n and chicken-style vegetable broth. The only things I was uncertain about is whether you drained/rinsed the beans and if you used pre-cooked sweet potatoes. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed the recipe! Yes, you def want to rinse and drain the beans to reduce the sodium intake. As for the sweet potatoes, I didn’t precook them. I chopped them up into small pieces so that they will soften during cooking. Hope this helps!

      • danakscully64 says

        The beans I used were salt free, I just wasn’t sure if you didn’t drain them to add thickness (like a chili). I always rinse. I did pre-cook my potatoes, just in case (might not next time). The dish was perfect. I also garnished it with a little Fleur de Sel and fresh pepper.

  13. Meghan says

    My mom just made this tonight for dinner and it was AMAZING. I love healthy recipes, except for I think it could have used more chicken.

  14. Andrea says

    Hi!! I am so excited to try this recipe! One question: how many servings does it yield? And do you know the nutrition facts per serving? I didn’t see it posted. Thanks so much for this wonderful recipe.

    • says

      Hi Andrea! It comes out to about 4-6 servings. I don’t have the nutritional info as I’m still trying to figure out which program or service to use. I hope to have it up soon. Sorry for the inconvenience! I hope you like the recipe!

      • Andrea says

        I just finished baking it and I had a bite, oh my word, deliciousness!! I love it! Can’t wait to have it for lunch tomorrow, thank you so much!

  15. suz says

    Do you think this could be successfully frozen and baked later? I’m looking for some healthy things to freeze for days when time is tight. Thanks!

  16. says

    You’re right on, Elaine! I was going to say that it’s best to freeze them in 1-2 serving size portions. If you freeze the whole casserole, it will get really wet and soggy. It will also shorten the thawing time as well ;). Enjoy!

  17. Tutu says

    This looks so wonderfully tasty. My daughter is highly allergic to spinach so I wonder if Kale would be a good substitute?

    • says

      Absolutely! Feel free to substitute with any veggies that you like. A reader told me that she added swiss chard, and it tasted fantastic! Enjoy!

  18. says

    This is the most delicious dish ever! I made it for a group of 6 people. Every single one loved it. They even went for second helpings. THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing this recipe. Quinoa is my favorite seed or grain and I could eat it almost every day with anything. Grew up with it.

    • says

      Yay! I’m SO glad that it was a hit! I agree..in fact, I DO eat it everyday haha. And that’s why I’m doing a Whole Grain Series..it’s motivating me to venture out and try other wonderful whole grains out there! Hope you will too ;)

  19. Maia says

    Made it last week and will be baking it for my daughter and her family next week. It’s like a fiesta for your tastebuds. Absolutely delicious.

  20. Judy Bradley says

    This sounds good and healthy too! I almost passed it by – just looking at the picture as I thought the black items were olives – til I looked at the recipe title. I love black beans, but not olives!

    • says

      I’m so glad you stuck around ;). I used to not care for olives either, but I’m slowly opening up to it. Hope you give this recipe a try!

  21. Tina says

    Looks delicious. Do you cook the sweet potatoes before you introduce them to the dish? It does not seem long for them to be fully cooked. Thank you.

    • says

      Thank you! No, there’s no need to cook them beforehand if you cut them into small cubes ;). Hope you like this recipe as it is one of our fav!

  22. Bridgett says

    Making this right now!I use quinoa in tabouli in the summer time (instead of whatever grain it calls for) and it is great cold! I add good tomatoes and cucumber, sometimes shredded chicken. A refreshing, light, one-dish meal. Great for picnics!

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