Easy dinner recipes: Tempting quinoa ideas for Gluten-Free Wednesday

If you're looking for a wheat-free alternative this Gluten-Free Wednesday, you can't go wrong with quinoa.

A South American grain-like crop, quinoa has come to be recognized as a nutrient-dense superfood, and it's all the rage right now. The seeds, or "grains" (quinoa is not a true cereal, though its seeds resemble and are used like grains) of the plant can be found at most supermarkets, and it can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, and even popped.

If you've never cooked with it before, here are a couple of tips: Rinse the grains under running water; they are coated with saponins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using. For extra depth of flavor, try toasting the quinoa before cooking it. After rinsing the grains, dry them in a towel, then toast them briefly in a dry skillet until they color slightly and have a nutty aroma.

To cook, place the rinsed grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish. Check out some of our recipe suggestions below.

RECIPES: 99 easy dinner ideas in about an hour or less

Quinoa salad with shiitakes, fennel and cashews: Looking for a robust dish that is still vegetarian? Try this combination of quinoa, meaty shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and crunchy toasted cashews. These flavors come together in perfect harmony in this salad, which can be dinner tonight in less than an hour.

Scarlet quinoa salad: The quinoa salad from M Cafe is bright, refreshing and filling if you're looking for something on the lighter side, and it's vegan. Quinoa is cooked with finely diced beets, which tint the quinoa a vibrant shade of red. Cool the quinoa, then add cucumber, lemon zest and herbs and toss the salad with a tangy fresh vinaigrette. The recipe does require a little forethought when it comes to ingredients and a shopping list (you'll need to buy umeboshi vinegar -- available at Asian markets and select well-stocked stores). And you might as well shop for extra of everything -- yeah, this salad is good enough you'll probably want a double batch.

Kale chopped salad: A great salad for kale lovers, chopped kale and romaine are tossed with quinoa, almonds, raisins and parmesan cheese. Just before serving, toss with a bright lemon vinaigrette. The whole dish comes together in only 45 minutes.

If you are sensitive to gluten, check all ingredients to make sure they are gluten-free before using, as many may contain trace gluten (such as spices, a number of which include flour as an anti-caking agent), and/or are produced in facilities that also process gluten-based products.

You can find the recipes below.

And for more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

QUICK & EASY: 99 terrific recipes in about an hour or less

QUINOA SALAD WITH SHIITAKES, FENNEL AND CASHEWS

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: This recipe calls for a wok. Quinoa is generally available at health food stores as well as at well-stocked supermarkets, including Whole Foods stores.

2 cups quinoa

1 quart water

Salt

1/4 cup peanut oil

5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

2 cups thinly sliced fennel (about 1 large bulb)

2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms

1 cup sliced green onions, both white and green parts (about 1 small bunch)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup toasted, salted cashews

4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1. Rinse the quinoa under cool running water, then drain well with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer (the grains are very small and will slip through a coarse strainer). Heat a wok over medium-high heat and toast the quinoa, shaking the pan frequently, just until the grains dry, are just beginning to color and have a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In a medium, lidded pot, bring 1 quart of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa with a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat the wok again over high heat. Add the peanut oil and heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir in the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds (the garlic can burn quickly). Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, keeping the oil in the pan, and set aside.

4. Add the fennel to the oil and fry, stirring or tossing frequently, until it is caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oil and set aside. Add the shiitakes to the oil and stir-fry until caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the green onions in with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry just until the green onions begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the mixture and stir or toss to combine, then remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, gently toss the quinoa with the warm shiitake-green onion mixture, the fennel, garlic, cashews, parsley, cilantro, lime zest and juice. Season to taste with additional salt if desired and serve immediately.

Each of 6 servings: 497 calories; 17 grams protein; 65 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 18 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 273 mg. sodium.

SCARLET QUINOA SALAD

Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling time for the quinoa

Servings: 6

Note: Umeboshi (plum) vinegar can be found at Whole Foods markets and Asian markets.

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

2 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons dill pickle juice

1 tablespoon best-quality olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, pickle juice and olive oil. Cover and refrigerate until needed. This makes one-fourth cup dressing.

Scarlet quinoa and salad assembly

1 cup quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced red beets

2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup diced Japanese or Persian cucumber

2 teaspoons chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped dill

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Umeboshi-lemon dressing

Salt

1. Wash the quinoa under cold running water in a fine strainer. Drain well.

2. In a 2-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the beets, vegetable broth, olive oil and lemon juice. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the quinoa, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, about 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat and drain any remaining liquid.

3. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate the grains, uncovered, until cool.

4. Fluff the cooled grains and place them in a large bowl. Gently stir in the cucumber, chives, dill and lemon zest. Stir in half of the dressing, then taste the salad and add additional dressing or salt as desired.

Each serving: 146 calories; 4 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 220 mg. sodium.

NAPA VALLEY GRILLE’S KALE CHOPPED SALAD

Total time: 45 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Note: Adapted from Napa Valley Grille in Westwood.

LEMON VINAIGRETTE

Juice of 3 lemons and grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 anchovy fillet, minced

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 basil leaves, cut in thin strips

Sea salt

Finely-ground pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, shallot, anchovy, cheese and basil. Season to taste with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper. This makes slightly more than one-half cup vinaigrette, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the vinaigrette will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.

KALE SALAD

1/4 cup quinoa

1 romaine heart, chopped

1 head green kale, chopped

1/4 cup almonds, toasted

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse under cool running water to remove the outer coating of the quinoa (if not rinsed, the coating can give the quinoa a bitter flavor). Place the rinsed quinoa in a dry saute pan and toast, stirring frequently, until the quinoa is dry, lightly colored, and has a nutty aroma.

3. Place the toasted quinoa in the saucepan with the water, reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa until it is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Drain the quinoa and spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

4. In a large bowl, combine the romaine, kale, quinoa, almonds, raisins and parmesan cheese. Add one-fourth cup vinaigrette and toss to lightly coat. Add additional vinaigrette as desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Each of 6 servings: 170 calories; 5 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 5 grams sugar; 153 mg sodium.

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