I have a good friend who recently found out she has a fairly significant gluten intolerance. It came about a year ago when she realized her constant discomfort and bloat was only getting worse, and after months of tests and doctor’s visits, it was determined that gluten was the culprit to her troubles.
The gluten-free lifestyle is becoming much more main stream than it used to be and while you may not be suffering from Celiac yourself, it’s a pretty safe bet that you know of someone that is.
At first, the thought of eliminating grains from your diet sounds daunting and just plain undesirable. Imagine a life without pasta, bagels, a good piece of cake, it’s almost depressing. But when your health is compromised, you will do just about anything to ensure that you are always feeling at your best.
My friend was coming over for dinner last night and I immediately started going through a mental check-list of what I could not include in the menu. I often feel that when anyone says they practice a certain diet (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free) most people assume that their restrictions are far more difficult to cater to than they really are. If you have someone coming over that doesn’t eat meat, don’t make meat. It’s really that simple.
In my case, my friend doesn’t eat gluten, so I needed to think of a meal that was wheat-free and I absolutely did not want to give you all another salad, although I admit I came pretty darn close.
Quinoa is always my go-to when it comes to gluten-free and I honestly feel that you can center almost any meal with this ingredient. It’s such an excellent substitute for pasta or just about any other cooked grain and contains a huge source of protein and fiber. It’s basically a nutritional powerhouse and a cook’s best friend.
Now, back to this dish. I began throwing some ideas together in my head, did a quick survey of the ingredients I had on hand and came up with this….
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 3 cups sliced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 can chic peas
- 2 cups chopped broccoli
- 4 Italian flavored chicken sausage, chopped (gluten free, organic)
- 3 cups baby spinach
- ¼ cup Almond Basil Pesto (see below)
- ¼ cup reduced fat feta cheese
- Roast the tomatoes: Slice the tomatoes and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
- On a separate sheet, lay out drained chic peas and chopped broccoli. Season with cooking spray, salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.
- In a large skillet, brown chopped chicken sausage for about 5 minutes. Add spinach and saute for an additional 2 minutes or until spinach begins to wilt.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, roasted tomatoes, basil pesto, chic peas and broccoli, chicken sausage and spinach. Mix. Fold in feta cheese.
- Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and evenly spread quinoa mixture in dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
The roasted tomatoes were a last minute decision. Normally, I don’t have the patience to roast tomatoes but it’s always well worth it.
Simply lay out your chopped tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle oil on top.
Next, season with salt and pepper liberally.
When the tomatoes come out, they will look withered, charred and mushy. It’s a good thing!
The broccoli and chic peas also need to be roasted for the best flavor in this dish.
While that is all cooking, get to work on your other ingredients. The chicken sausage cooks in no time!
Once everything is cooked through, this is when you get to mix it all together and see the flavors magically marry into one beautiful dish.
Now, let’s stop here for a second. Looking at all of these flavors, I imagine it would be just fine without adding any additional elements; however, I wanted to impress so I may have kicked it up a notch with the pesto. To be honest, the pesto alone is worth making if not for this dish, to be eaten by itself. Fresh pesto is a wonderful thing and if you have an abundance of basil as I do, you’ll be looking for a good reason to use it up.
Consider this your reason.
Almond Basil Pesto
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2-4 tablespoons water (adjust as needed)
Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and combine until smooth.
Like I said, so worth it!
Once everything is combine, simply transfer your quinoa into a large baking dish.
I think one of the reasons why I don’t make casseroles more often is because they never look appealing but one thing is for sure, they always taste amazing!
My friend was delighted with this meal. Aside from the little extra prep work, it couldn’t be easier.
So the next time you are looking for an easy but delicious gluten-free dish, try quinoa and go from there. This dish is completely adaptable so feel free to add/eliminate the ingredients that you like.
If you are gluten-free (or if you were) what is the one food you would miss the most?