Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

It is rare that I go out for lunch, typically opting to bring my own (or scrounge an affectionately called “Workiva Special” from the complimentary office snacks) since it’s much cheaper and much easier to make healthy choices. However, on the days I am not on top of life and don’t want to eat yet another quesadilla, my favorite quick, inexpensive, and reasonably healthy spot is a local Brazilian BBQ place. Since you pick your base, your toppings, and your sauce, it’s easy to customize and they offer lots of vegetables. (Plus they have sweet potatoes, which is a sure way to win me over.) My go-to order is brown rice with greens, roasted root vegetables, black beans, steamed collard greens, and their mango BBQ sauce: delicious, filling, and a hefty serving of vegetables all in one.

Since all of these components are pretty simple to make, craft night with friends seemed like a great chance to try my own version. Although it requires a fair amount of prep work and oven time, it’s definitely not complicated and allows all your guests to adjust their bowls to their own preferences. If you use vegetable broth or water to cook the quinoa, your vegetarian and vegan friends can easily join in. And if there are any leftovers, everything reheats great.

For the roasted vegetables I chose sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant, but you can obviously pick whichever ones you want. Just make sure to adjust your baking times accordingly, as everything can take somewhat different times to reach their optimal texture. Potatoes take the longest, followed by things like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and peppers or summer squash take the least. Keep an eye on things in the oven and you’re good to go.

Stir-fried steak is easy and doesn’t take any extra oven space, but shredded (or diced) pork or chicken are also great options. Not a meat-eater? Just skip this step entirely, the bowls are delicious without any animals in them too. I tend to eat quinoa in lieu of rice, but any similar grain will work great. I like to cook my quinoa in broth to give it a bit more flavor, but if you don’t have any around just use water as normal. Spinach goes with everything so I sautéed some here, and also added some black beans because why not.

Now, let’s talk about some sauce.

As a huge fan of barbecue sauce in general, the mango version at Five on Black is a fun twist on a classic. I slightly adapted a recipe with a similar profile and it really takes these bowls up a notch. Obviously you can substitute your favorite homemade or store-bought sauce, but if you have the time I hope you give this one a shot. Lightly sweetened with maple syrup, a vaguely tropical flavor profile from the mango, and a little kick of chipotle, this sauce hits all the right taste buds in all the right places. Definitely use a very ripe mango for the best flavor, and adjust the syrup and adobo sauce amounts in order to lean sweeter or spicier. I’m pretty wussy about spice so I didn’t add any extra, but if you like a spicy experience you could easily double or triple the adobo sauce, or even add an extra chipotle pepper.

Tons of veggies, good sources of protein, and a magnificent sauce come together in a wonderful and healthy meal, perfect for all weather. Give my version a try or create your own, but be sure to let me know what you come up with!

Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

Inspired by Five on Black
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp olive oil

2 lbs steak, thinly sliced1
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups broth or water1
1.5 cups quinoa

8-10 cups spinach and/or kale
1 tbsp olive oil

1 recipe Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce (below)
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
optional toppings: chives, green onion, etc

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, adjusting shelves to fit two pans. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix sweet potatoes and 1 Tbsp olive oil until well coated. Spread in one layer on one of the prepared baking sheets.
  3. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread in one layer on half of the other baking sheet.
  4. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.
  5. Place sweet potatoes on the top rack and roast for about 40 minutes, until softened and lightly browned.
  6. After about 20 minutes, place eggplant and peppers in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until peppers are starting to blacken and eggplant is nicely browned.
  7. Meanwhile, cook quinoa in broth or water according to package directions.
  8. When the vegetables are almost done, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high in a large wok or frying pan.
  9. Add the steak and sauté until browned. Drain, remove from pan, and set aside. (Obviously skip this for vegetarian/vegan modification.)
  10. Wipe out extra meat juice from the wok, and heat another tablespoon of olive oil.
  11. Add spinach/kale and sauté until wilted and heated through.
  12. For each bowl, start with quinoa, and arrange veggies, beans, steak, and greens on top. Drizzle with mango BBQ sauce, and optionally top with green onion.
  13. Enjoy hot and refrigerate any leftovers in separate containers, for easy build-your-own dinners and lunches.

Notes

For a vegetarian or vegan meal, skip the meat and use water or vegetable broth to cook the quinoa.

Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Adapted from 1 Big Bite
Makes 3-4 cups

Ingredients

1 very ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 (15 oz) can, fire-roasted diced tomatoes (drained)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in a adobo)
1 Tbsp adobo sauce (from the same can)
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce2
1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid, and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and puree completely using an immersion blender1.
  4. If desired, stir in additional syrup or adobo sauce to suit your preferences.
  5. Store in sealed container in the refrigerator.

Notes

If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular one or a food processor, but let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes first.

2 This recipe is vegan if you choose a vegan Worcestershire sauce.

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“Almost Spring” Lemon Kale Soup

While other parts of the country have lovely breezes and tree blossoms, springtime in Bozeman varies from 65 and gorgeous to torrential rain and 20-mph winds. As the wettest and most temperamental time of year, April and May can see the entire weather spectrum in the span of just a few hours. This means while my morning ride might be delightful, my commute home is just as likely to be a drenching headwind. Such is life.

Because of this, however, my food desires can also change at a moment’s notice, which makes it challenging to do my normal weekly lunch and dinner prepping. If I make soup on Sunday, by Wednesday it could be 75 degrees (which is what happened this week); if I plan out some tasty salads, Tuesday will be met will a blizzard. Clearly this isn’t a huge crisis but as someone who likes to eat with the weather it does pose some difficulty.

In light of that, this soup spans the spectrum of weather, equally warming on a chilly day as it is fresh and spring on a warmer ones. A light broth (either vegetable or chicken) surrounds a light but filling mix of white beans, vegetables, and a touch of lemon. I have used both vegetable and chicken stock and they are excellent, so don’t feel you’ll be missing out by going the vegan route here.

Any white beans you have around will work nicely here, so I used a mixture of cannellini and butter beans for interest. Great northern beans would also be great, or whatever your favorite one might be. It takes 3 cans so mix and match to your heart’s content. For interest I added some grated zucchini and yellow squash, which won’t overpower the flavor but gives it some texture and an always-welcome veggie boost. Celery would also work nicely, although personally I rarely buy it.

I’m of the opinion that it’s highly challenging, if not impossible, to have too many leafy greens in a soup, so I don’t honestly measure. Just keep adding handfuls until it looks like enough. I probably added around six cups here, but there’s no rules with kale (or spinach, or chard, or whatever you want) so add as much as or as little as you like. The way I look at it is the more you add the more you’re basically eating soup and salad in one go, which seems like a win in my book.

The added lemon juice brightens the flavor without really tasting very lemony, but start with half the amount if you’re unsure about it. It gives a freshness and a springtime note to what could just as easily be a winter soup. As an added bonus, this soup comes together in just over 30 minutes, so if on those days you’re home late and starving because you completely underestimated how long you’d be out with your coworkers, you can still make a warm and healthy meal in a pretty reasonable amount of time.

Complainy carnivores in the house? This soup would be excellent with some cooked and shredded chicken and it’s easy to add that to individual bowls if you have a mixed crowd to please. It’s also extra delightful with bread, so pick up your favorite focaccia or crusty baguette (great for dipping) to have on the side.

“Almost Spring” Lemon Kale Soup

Adapted from Fork Knife Swoon
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
juice of 1 lemon
3 (15 oz) cans white beans1, drained
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, grated (about 1-2 cups)
salt and pepper, to taste

3-6 cups baby kale2, to taste (I like a lot of greens, so I used closer to 6 cups)

Directions

  1. Add olive oil to a large pot, and heat over medium until warmed.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is softened and translucent.
  3. Stir in herbs and continue to sauté until onion is just starting to brown.
  4. Stir in stock, half the lemon juice, beans, and zucchini, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper if desired. Taste, and add more lemon or spices as desired.
  5. Carefully stir in kale and continue to simmer until softened, 5-10 minutes3. Serve hot with a tasty bread for dipping.

Notes

I’ve used two cans cannellini beans and then one can of either butter beans or great northern beans. Feel free to mix and match and substitute your favorite white beans.

If you’re not a fan of kale, substitute any dark, leafy green of choice. If you’re using something more delicate, like spinach, add it just before serving as it does not keep its shape as well as a heartier leaf like kale.

Although kale holds its shape nicely it does darken into a muddier green over time, so for the bright green color it’s best to serve fairly promptly.

Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese

Omnivores can cheer, this sandwich contains meat! Mildly inspired by my favorite panini at a local Italian restaurant, this recipe is hearty and filling but still a more exciting profile than your traditional cheddar.

I feel like most places with a “gourmet” grilled cheese option just shove about eleven pounds of cheese on there, with maybe the option of bacon and tomato. Although there’s nothing wrong with this method and it can be quite delicious (other than ruining a perfectly good sandwich with mostly raw tomato), I don’t find it particularly new and interesting anymore.

However, pesto and chicken are a match made in heaven and adding cheese to the concoction can only improve it. I chose Gruyère, mainly because I love Gruyere, but any sort of cheddar or pepper jack or whatever have you around would be equally delightful. A smidge of goat cheese adds a wonderful creaminess and a slight tang, but is totally optional if it’s not your thing. For an extra veggie boost I added a layer of fresh baby spinach which complemented everything nicely.

This is a great way to use up leftover chicken (which is what I did) but is definitely worth it to make specifically as well. I picked a striped rye bread I had around which was excellent, but almost anything would be awesome.

Also, tangy cheese and herby pesto are a fantastic combination in themselves, so for a vegetarian option just leave out the chicken (or replace it with roasted bell peppers). I promise it’s excellent both ways.

Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

1 Tbsp pesto
1 Tbsp goat cheese (optional)
2 oz Gruyère, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cooked chicken, shredded or in thin slices
1/4 cup fresh baby spinach (optional)

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. In a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side) heat a little butter or oil over medium-low.
  2. Spread pesto on one slice of bread. Dollop with goat cheese (if using) and top evenly with chicken. Optionally, add a layer of fresh spinach atop the chicken.
  3. Arrange Gruyère on the other slice and transfer both to the pan.
  4. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the cheeses are melty and warmed through. 
  5. Gently move the Gruyère slice on top of the other and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

Boursin Veggie Grilled Cheese

As much as I love a gooey grilled delight just dripping with cheese, they can quickly become exceedingly heavy and high calorie. Sometimes this is fine and exactly what I want, and other times I wish for a slightly lighter experience with the same delicious profile.

Inspired by a veggie sandwich from a local restaurant, this grilled cheese is for the days when you’re looking for a lighter fair. Creamy herbed Boursin cheese (and optionally, a little cheddar) gives you plenty of melty goodness while roasted veggies keep it well-balanced and flavorful. Roasted is my preferred method of cooking most vegetables, and while it’s a little more time-consuming it really deepens the flavor here.

I chose the Garlic & Fine Herbs flavor, but any of them would be delicious (or a homemade version if you prefer.) Boursin is very creamy but feels lighter than actual cream cheese, which pairs nicely with the vegetables. I added a little bit of cheddar to one of my iterations and I liked the additional flavor, but it’s certainly not necessary if you want to leave it out.

Choose a bread you really like here as it’s a very prominent flavor, relatively unmasked by the usual gobs of cheese and toppings. I went with a local Norwegian Farm Loaf, which is a fairly mild but delightful wheat bread. Sourdough or ciabatta would be other excellent options if you want a more neutral flavor.

This is easily customized to whatever vegetables are in season; pictured is red bell pepper, zucchini, and yellow squash which makes a lovely array of colors, but almost anything would be great. Just make sure it’s thinly sliced (ideally to roughly the same length as your bread) and you cook things like carrots and broccoli longer than squashes. Feel free to add as many veggies as you like, but keep in mind without the excess of cheese to glue everything together it is most easy to eat if there’s only one layer of vegetables. Mix it up by adding extra spices during the roasting process; some red pepper flakes would be great.

Next time you’re looking for a cozy meal with a few less calories, give this a shot and let me know what you think.

(PS – it would also be great with a small cup of soup on a chilly day!)

Boursin Veggie Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

Veggies, in long slices (I used zucchini, bell pepper, and yellow squash)
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1-1.5 oz Boursin cheese (about 1/4 of a “block”)
1 oz cheddar, thinly sliced (optional)

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Toss veggies with just enough olive oil to coat, then spread in a single layer on prepared pan.
  3. Roast 15-20 minutes, to desired doneness.
  4. When veggies are almost done, heat a little butter or oil over medium-low in a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side).
  5. Spread half of Boursin cheese on each slice of bread. Top one side with cheddar, if using.
  6. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the cheeses are melty and warmed through. 
  7. When the veggies are done, place in a single layer on one slice of bread. Gently top with the other side of bread and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  8. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese

Happy April! Meatless March is over but, psych! Here’s another vegetarian recipe. I actually did not struggle too badly with the no meat thing until the last week, at which point I suddenly had the giantest of cravings for a Canyon Creek burger from Ted’s Montana grill. I still have not satiated this craving, but it’ll just be all the better when I do.

Regardless, in case you are not aware, April is National Grilled Cheese Month! Yep, that’s a thing. ‘Merica. I happen to super love grilled cheese and as such will be employing the theme this month; check for a new flavor every week. Hope you enjoy the series!

First off I went with one of my favorite things, sweet potato. You may have noticed I have a slight obsession so if it’s not your thing just close this tab and come back next week. If it is your thing, however, trust me when I say this is a grand adventure for your mouth. Several weeks ago a friend was making dinner and ran out of the main course (in her defense, I arrived quite late) and offered to make me a grilled cheese. On a whim she threw some cooked sweet potato in with it and on that day began a new era.

In my version I upped the flavor complexity a bit by mashing my sweet potato with goat cheese and a little chipotle, and then layered it with sliced Gruyère. I opted for sourdough bread from a local bakery but I think a seeded multigrain would also be excellent, as well as a fluffy potato bread. Whatever you decide to envelope your cheese delight with, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the outcome.

Creamy sweet potato with the slight tang of goat cheese pairs beautifully with Gruyère, and the chipotle adds a nice little kick. I made mine pretty mild (shocking, I know) but you can definitely play with the ratios to suit your fancy. Step up your grilled cheese game and make yourself a Real Adult Dinner this evening.

But if you want to pair it with chocolate milk, I won’t judge.

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

1/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
2 Tbsp goat cheese
1/8 tsp ground chipotle, to taste (or cinnamon!)

2 oz Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. In a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side), heat a little butter or oil over medium-low.
  2. Meanwhile, mash together sweet potato, goat cheese, and chipotle; add more spice if necessary.
  3. Spread sweet potato mixture on one slice of bread, and arrange Gruyère in a single layer on the other.
  4. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the Gruyère is melty and the sweet potato is hot.
  5. Gently transfer one side on top of the other, and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!