Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mexican quinoa loaf with roasted tomatillo salsa

An early happy (and healthy) Cinco de Mayo to you! And to help make it healthier, here's a delicious quinoa dish with a Tex-Mex flourish. This quinoa loaf is great on its own or as a side dish. Even better, the girls loved it.

So quinoa. As you may have read recently, quinoa has the reputation of being a superfood. A staple grain of the ancient Incans, quinoa has more protein than any other grain. According to, "It's considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. Quinoa is also higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates than most grains, and it provides a rich and balanced source of vital nutrients."

Sounds perfect right?

Sadly, quinoa has been my own personal Waterloo. A few years ago in a healthy eating frenzy, I cooked up a quinoa pudding that was...well...disgusting is too mild. Vile. Repulsive. Repugnant. Vomit-inducing. Second only to the disturbingly crunchy, yet slippery pickled jellyfish on my yuck list.

Ever since then, I've been too chicken to try quinoa again. Til now. I mean, who could resist something called A Giant Quinoa "Tamale"? (I renamed the dish didn't seem very tamale-esque to this transplanted Texan.)

Mexican quinoa loaf with roasted tomatillo salsa
Adapted (very slightly) from Mark Bittman's The Food That Matters

Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended

Use the tomatillo salsa recipe on its own for a quick sauce that keeps well and comes in handy for serving with steamed vegetables, beans, fish, or tortilla chips.

1 pound tomatillos (about 5 or 6 large), husked and rinsed (canned are fine; drain and reserve their juice)
1 large poblano or other fresh mild green chile
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the loaf pan
2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
A pinch of ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lime juice
Black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup grated Monterey Jack, shredded Mexican four cheese, or crumbled queso fresco, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon chili powder
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the tomatillos, chile, onion, and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roast, turning once or twice, until the chile skin is blistered and everything is browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pan but leave the oven at 400°F if you’re making the tamale right away.

Meanwhile, put the quinoa in a large pot along with a big pinch of salt. Add water to cover by about 11⁄2 inches. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains are very tender and begin to burst, 25 to 30 minutes. If the grains get too dry, add just enough water to keep them submerged. When the grains are starchy and thick, remove from the heat. (You can cook the quinoa up to a day ahead and refrigerate; return to room temperature before proceeding.)

Remove the skin, seeds, and stem from the chile and put the flesh in a blender or food processor along with the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and any pan juices. Add the oregano, cayenne, lime juice, 1⁄2 cup water (or the reserved canned tomatillo liquid), and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Blend or process until smooth, adding enough water to thin the mixture into a pourable sauce; taste and adjust the seasoning. (The salsa can be made ahead to this point and covered and refrigerated for up to a day; return to room temperature or gently warm right before serving.)

When you’re ready to make the loaf, generously grease a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan with some oil. Mix the baking powder and a pinch of salt into the quinoa with a fork. The consistency should be thick but spreadable; if it’s too stiff, add a few drops of water. Spread half of the quinoa mixture in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with the queso fresco and chili powder. Add the remaining quinoa, smooth it out evenly, and press down a bit to seal the loaf. Cover the pan tightly with foil. (At this point the quinoa loaf can be covered and refrigerated for up to several hours.)

Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the top is golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the oven and let the tamale sit for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a platter. Garnish with the cilantro and a little more cheese, cut the tamale into slices, and serve, passing the salsa at the table.


  1. Happy cinco de mayo to you too. I pondered and pondered on what to post but couldn't come up with one creative idea. Not as creative and lovely as this....I will absolutely be making this weekend. I even already bought the tomatillos for my failed cinco de mayo endeavor. This looks outstanding!

  2. Yum! That looks really good. I love that it's gf without any modifications. I'll have to try these the next time we do a Mexican night(tonight's menu is already set.) Thanks for sharing.

  3. Awww...thanks!! I'm just happy to have broken my quinoa jinx. :)

  4. This is completely different from anything I've done with quinoa before, so welcome the new idea! It's similar to something I do with cornbread, but this should be healthier. Thanks!

  5. interesting. hmmm.....i'm posting this recipe to fb. i know some people who are quinoa freaks!


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