Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Quinoa Stuffed Bell-peppers

I am a moderately healthy person. I exercise daily, make mostly nutritious decisions, drink enough water, and stay a healthy weight. But I am in no means a health nut. I enjoy my afternoon diet soda and eat way too much candy.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the psychology of eating, and how the eating habits we develop in childhood really impact the rest of our lives. Jonathan and I grew up in the deep south (aka highest obesity rates in the country), and worse, he grew up in a house with 4 boys and 1 man. Meat with a side of starch are the cornerstones of all of his favorite childhood meals.
My problem was that I was always underweight and a super picky eater therefore my parents were always encouraging me to eat high calorie foods, especially carbs since I was an avid athlete. They praised me when I asked for second helpings and let me eat essentially whatever I wanted. This mainly consisted of mac and cheese, cheese pizza, spaghettios, and fish sticks. When I went to college, my palate diversified and my appetite surged. Unfortunately this change incidentally coincided with the end of my soccer career.
I didn’t quite put on the “freshman fifteen” but I had to learn to adapt. My solution was running. I figured if I ran 7 miles a day, I wouldn’t have to change my eating habits. That was true, until recently. I still exercise every day, but with a full time job and weird hours, sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy for a good workout. It’s much easier and time efficient to cut some calories rather than add some cardio.
I’ll never be a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but I do strive to cut meat out as the focal point to every meal and to go meatless a few days a week. It’s harder than it seems to get away from a habit so ingrained, especially when every recipe in your repertoire includes a huge serving of meat. Even my vegetable soup has 2 lbs of stew meat in the recipe.
Recently, my sister (who is an actual health nut) introduced me to quinoa.
Quinoa is a grain-like seed similar to couscous. It’s an excellent source of protein and fiber, and a tasty meat substitute. Last weekend I made quinoa stuffed peppers and it was so deliciously guilt free and filling! Quinoa is also very versatile. I’ve found recipes for quinoa oatmeal , quinoa salads, and quinoa burgers. I try to eat protein but as a runner, I never feel like it fills me up and I’m always craving carbs instead. Quinoa is different and super filling. One stuffed bell-pepper for dinner (which is only about 250 calories) keeps me full until bedtime which allows me to skip my usually pre-bedtime snack (see, totally unhealthy habits!) Here is the recipe I used adapted from this blog , though you can definitely customize the ingredients to your tastes. For instance, my sister adds pesto sauce instead of cheese to the top of her bell-peppers, probably because she’s a total health nut.
Quinoa Stuffed Bell-peppers
1 medium onion, chopped,
2TB of olive oil
½ cup of chopped celery
1 ½ cups of shredded carrots (about 3 carrots will do it; unless your husband does the grocery shopping, and then it takes about 20 baby carrots)
1 TB ground cumin
2 tsp minced garlic
1 10 oz package of frozen spinach thawed and squeezed dry
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes- drain, but reserve liquid separately
1 15 oz can of black beans, drained
1 ½ cups of shredded pepper jack cheese
¾ cups Quinoa
4 bell peppers- I like to get one of each color
1. Start off my sautéing onions and celery in oil for about 5 minutes. Add in cumin and garlic and heat for one minute before adding drained tomatoes and spinach. Cook this mixture for 5 minutes until all the liquid has drained.
2. Stir in carrots, black beans, and uncooked quinoa. Add 2 cups of water to mixture, cover and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. At this point, mix in 1 cup of pepper jack cheese.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut your bell-peppers in half from top-to-bottom (lengthways) and de-seed and de-rib them. Pour your tomato juice in the bottom of a large baking pan (I used my lasagna pan). Stuff bell-peppers with quinoa and veggie mixture. Cover baking pan with foil and cook for one hour.
4. Top each bell-pepper with a sprinkle of cheese and cook for 15 more minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before eating. Trust me on this one.

Total prep + cook time is about 2 hours for this. However, the long baking time allows for kitchen clean up in the meantime. And this recipe makes about 8-10 servings and it’s really good for freezing. I’d recommend even doubling the recipe and freezing ¾ of it. Once you have the mixture, its super easy to just buy some bell-peppers, thaw out a few servings and pop it in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Voila, healthy vegetarian dinner.

And if you’ve been living under the same health –food ignoramus rock that I have, here is some additional information on cooking quinoa.
(Breakfast Quinoa)

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