Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chicken, Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa: Guess what? I'm a grown up cook now.

This is the story of a girl. A girl who didn't used to try new recipes. A girl who would idly flip through her mother's cookbooks and the pages of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, pausing only to admire the pictures. She would read a recipe and think, "Hmm... that looks and sounds good," but then continue on her merry way, content to eat grilled cheese sandwiches with canned soup, chicken stir-fry, packaged tortellini, and frozen pizza for her weeknight dinners.

Then, one day last year, that girl started a food blog. She planned it to be mostly about the restaurants she visited, with occasional posts about food products and her standby, tried and true recipes like Chicken Marsala and peanut butter oatmeal, but then something terrible happened. The self proclaimed picky palated princess from the OC realized that she wasn't making as much as she did at her previous job. Her budget for extravagant multi-course meals at Osteria Mozza, Hatfield's and Fraiche was nearly nonexistent unless she dipped into her rapidly depleting savings. Or never bought a new skirt or dress from Anthropologie ever again.

Whatever was she to do? Despite her malnourished funds, she still maintained a taste for the exquisite, and a lust for flavorful meals that challenged her tongue and satisfied her demanding stomach. Plus, she had a food blog to worry about! If she couldn't write about restaurants, she would have to come up with something else to say!

It was at this critical juncture that this girl decided it was time to get creative in the kitchen. No longer would she turn the other cheek at recipes that called for ingredients she didn't normally purchase. No longer would she read a food magazine without tagging pages to come back to later. And no longer would she subsist on meals originating from boxes or cans! She was going to cook, gosh darn it! Cook until her arms were scarred with burn marks and her fingers scarred with cuts!


I originally saw this recipe for black bean and tomato quinoa in the July 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine. I had just started using quinoa as a sometimes replacement for a side of brown rice in my stir-fries and ho-hum baked chicken dishes, and was intrigued by the idea of trying it as a base for a salad. Of course, because I was still in the packaged tortellini stage, I didn't even bother to clip the recipe out. When was I ever going to buy a big bunch of cilantro? I bookmarked the recipe in my mind (my memory does not allow me to forget about food very easily), but had no intention to make it in the near or immediate future.

Earlier this week, as the temperatures in Southern California climbed far beyond the standard 73 degrees I've come to expect from the territory, I began scouring my favorite food blogs and sites for recipes that did not make me want to crawl out of my skin and die from heat overload. My first stop (as usual) was Esi's Dishing Up Delights. Her recipes are always accessible, and because she is also typically cooking for just one, I don't have to worry about recalculating proportions and nixing ingredients that just don't work for the single diner. Since I had quite a bit of quinoa on hand and have been wanting to try a quinoa salad, I did a search for quinoa on her blog. At the bottom of the results page was the recipe for the black bean and tomato quinoa I had lusted over nearly two years ago. It felt like a sign.

I took on the recipe this past Tuesday evening, improvising a bit to make it into a full entree. I added pieces of chicken that I briefly marinated in red wine vinegar and lime juice, I mixed red pepper pieces in with the quinoa to give the dish a bit more veg, and I topped the affair with some feta cheese. I also cooked the quinoa in chicken broth for additional flavor, and played around with the dressing some -- reducing the amount of olive oil and replacing it with a bit more lime juice and some red wine vinegar. The end result was a deliciously palate-pleasing dinner that tasted perfect on the hot night, and equally swoon-worthy last night when I heated it up and served it warm.

The recipe is in many ways a symbol of how much I've grown in the past two years. Not only as a cook, but also as an eater. I think this is part of why I knew I had to make the recipe when I came across it on Esi's blog on Tuesday. I wanted to prove to myself that I have come a long way from the days of plain provolone grilled cheese sandwiches and Amy's chunky tomato soup. I'm not the girl who is afraid of new recipes any more. I'm the girl who can't wait to try new recipes.

Chicken, Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Loosely adapted from Esi's adaptation of Epicurious' recipe

Makes 2 entree-sized portions

2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 red pepper, diced
Zest of 1/2 lime (approximately 1 teaspoon)
Juice of 2 limes (approximately 2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt, pepper to taste
Feta cheese

Whisk together lime zest, 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Use remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon olive oil as a marinade for the chicken. Salt and peper to taste. Let marinate for approximately 15 minutes. Cook in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat until cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare quinoa according to package instructions with 1 cup chicken broth. Approximately five minutes before done, add the red pepper. When the broth has been absorbed and the white shells have separated from the kernals, fluff the quinoa with a fork, remove from the heat, and add the black beans, tomatos, scallions, cilantro, and chicken. Pour dressing over the mixture and toss until coated well. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with optional feta cheese.


Esi said...

I love this recipe and the changes/additions you made. Hooray for new recipes (and budget cooking, lol)

Jenn said...

Budget-Shmudget is what I say, even though my fund are non-existent as well. If you gotta eat, you gotta eat. =) Well done with that really tasty lookin' dish.

Apples and Butter said...

I find myself having to make the same decisions! New outfit at anthro or great meal at Animal. The food usually wins out and then I can't fit into the new clothes anyway! The salad looks like it was a great solution to not wanting to turn on the oven. It was insanely hot this week!

The Duo Dishes said...

The marinade for the chicken is a great the lime. This sounds like it'd be just as good cold.

Diana said...

Esi - Yes, hooray for budget cooking! This one is actually a pretty cheap recipe too. A can of black beans is only 99 cents on TJs/Whole Foods!

Jenn - Hah, I pretty much agree with you. Which is why I still screw over my savings account from time to time!

Jessica - Most of the time food wins out for me too! I've been dying to try Animal. It's on my restaurant "to do" list for the year.

Chrystal & Amir - I think this is the type of salad that can be served any old which way and still be delicious. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Pearl said...

that looks like a great dish! :O don't you ever forgo those cute skirts from anthropologie!

Jan said...

Your dinner looks beautiful! I love how you make each recipe your own. We may have to try it sometime, if only I can find the right quinoa!

Reeni♥ said...

I love big girl food! This is chock full of goodies and lovely flavors. What a yummy comfort meal!

Kirby! said...

I have had this recipe bookmarked for like a year, and still haven't tried it! So glad it was tasty! I will try to get to it soon.

And I would agree that blogging has definitely made me more "mature" as an eater and a cook... it is so rare that I buy frozen or packaged foods now because I would rather make them. Who knew???

Diana said...

Pearl - Oh don't you worry! I actually just got myself a new dress from there...

Mom - I'll definitely make it for you guys sometime this summer. And I'll supply the quinoa! :)

Reeni - Total comfort food - I was a happy camper!

Kirby - Shocking isn't it? But a welcome change. Our arteries are going to thank us for not pumping 'em full of all that sodium from frozen foods. Let me know how you like the recipe if you try it!

Heather said...

yummmm. that looks good! congrats on being "all grown up" :)

Kevin said...

I really like quinoa dishes like this! They are nice and tasty and healthy as well.