Quick Quinoa Dinners

On New Years Eve, we sat, as we have many times before, counting our blessings on soft grass that overlooks the lemon yellow and blue grey curve of Avoca Beach.

We set a table with red and white plates that were scribed with ‘Joy’ in their centre. And we ate a feast; the sort of meal you can easily produce when there are two children spread between six adults. There was a starter of ajo blanco – room temperature Spanish almond and garlic soup, studded with pomegranate seeds. For dessert we had banoffee ‘mess’ (the love child of a banoffee pie and Eton Mess). And sandwiched in the middle there was a terrifying quantity of bone-in, 100 day aged rib eye, cleaved into steaks that looked like they’d been born from a mammoth. With them we had a tomato, red onion and tarragon salad, salsa verde, creamed corn and, because we felt we had to; sauteed kale.

In the centre of the table we placed a vase of kale. It seemed like 2013 was the year for kale. It was everywhere. It was what we ate when we wanted to make amends for what we’d put our bodies through- when we wanted to at least look like we were taking care of ourselves. It was a vegetable that loudly announced its presence and wouldn’t leave quietly.

My dear friend Kristina has a terrific habit of decreeing a theme of what each year shall bring. Early in the hours of January 1 Kristina decided that 2014 will be the year of rejuvenation. When the ‘WhatsApp’ message came through, I almost felt my eyes well up in relief. Rejuvenation? Do you think that involves… sleep?

I had made it through to 12:04 am on New Year’s Eve, eyelids held open with both excitement and matchsticks. As DIY fireworks sparked across the beach I stood barefoot on the balcony, kissed my husband, hugged my beautiful hosts and then fell, hard into bed.

I’m grasping after sleep at the moment, with outstretched fingers, chasing it madly. I’m clinging to it the same way you do when you dive under a wave and hold onto the sandy base at the shore. It’s a fleeting sensation. Just when you think you have it, it’s gone. And without it, I’m a bit adrift. You probably wouldn’t know it to see me; except for the fact that I seem to permanently have foot-in-mouth disease at the moment. I’ve nearly lost count of the amount of people I’ve left in tears after talking to me (good work Tori). I have very little memory of what I’m saying most of the time. I feel like I should be handing out a business card before each conversation; ‘I hope I don’t say anything too upsetting or offensive. It’s just I’ve only had four hours of uninterrupted sleep once in six weeks once now (and only four times in the six months before that) and when it comes to reading the emotional subtext of what we’re saying, we might as well be speaking Icelandic’.

‘It’s the four month sleep regression’ I was told by a few wise mums, four weeks ago when Will’s habit of waking three times a night crept back up to more, returning us to dark days that I thought were behind us. ‘Try putting that child on solids- that will sort him out’. Out came the rice cereal and sweet potato. In the wake of that came his inability to digest them- which led to up to five times a night waking.

And now, we’re somewhere else entirely. It’s a place that’s populated only by Shakespearean villains. Except sleep in this house hasn’t been murdered by a ghost. In this small flat there’s just us and a sweet faced, gummy cherub, who is plucked from rest up to seven times a night, wrenching his body to rakish angles and howling upwards with tightly closed eyes, like a puppy who has been trapped down a well.

Perhaps silent reflux? A milk allergy? Who knows. Hopefully someone. We’re back to the doctor, for our first available appointment on Monday, in search of proper answers. And we also need to start putting in place some better management for me.

I’ve felt the glimmering edges of sanity before. I’m sure most chronically sleep deprived parents do. Mental stability is a precious place, protected by picket fences made of pillows. If you stray too long from that address, things start to warp. Of course there are adjuncts; exercise is important. Fresh air is lovely. But sleep; sleep is the key. So when a few days ago I strapped Will to my chest and took a long walk along one of my favourite arches of sand and heard the thought trickle in, of ; ‘I wonder what it would be like if we walked into the sea. I bet it’s quiet down there’ I took a large intake of breath. I had no idea where it had come from. It’s not logical. It’s not something I’ll ever do. But it scared the heck out of me. It seems that two steps behind me on the walk on the beach was a small, black dog. And we need to put him on a leash before he grows any bigger.

This is always a time of year for introspection. The 365 days that just passed were made up of many things; of shifts and kernels of changes; between London and Sydney, life before a child and life with. It was a year of two books- one that was released and another that was written and shot. It was a year of bad accidents and remarkable recoveries, of family and friends. And while we may joke that it was the year of kale, it was actually officially the year of a seed. It was the year of quinoa.

And wasn’t it just.

This hardy, hearty little puff has become the staple hero in my sleepy kitchen- providing slow carb sustenance and saving many a dinner (or breakfast- this version of sauteed greens, parsley, quinoa, avocado and soft eggs from Porch at Bondi has quickly become a favourite).

But quinoa was lofted up to true saviour as soon as I twigged the cheat’s way to cook it. Sure you’ll probably get a slightly superior texture if you use the traditional absorption method, sloshing it in 1 – 1.5 times its volume of liquid, brought to the boil, then simmered in a pot with the lid on for 10 minutes. But if you have distractions in your life, there’s every chance you’re going to forget about the pot, scorch the bottom and ruin the lot- and end scraping it into the bin, choking back a swear word and ordering Thai take away again. Don’t be that person.

So instead, use a crutch. Rinse your quinoa well, then put it in a microwave safe container with 1.5 times its volume of water. Give it a stir. Put a lid on. And microwave on high for ten minutes, then leave the lid on for another five. It’s virtually fool proof, even if you forget about it for another hour. Fluff with a fork. Done. It will then keep happily in the fridge for a few days.

What you then have is a ready supply that forms the back bone of many a meal. Add it to hipster stews with chicken and kale like this one.

Use it as a base of a chicken and fennel salad like this one.

Or when 5 pm rolls around throw in the oven a dozen halved cherry tomatoes, a head of garlic with the head chopped off, a diced eggplant, red pepper and red onion. Drizzle with 3 tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Come back to it in an hour/ an hour and a half- enough time to bath, feed and settle a baby. Rumple your ad hoc roasted ratatouille through your quinoa. Crumble over some feta, pepitas and some basil leaves. And eat on its own, or as a side to barbecued chicken or lamb.

It’s a simple, pleasing supper that allows you to stop and take a deep quiet breath, safe in the knowledge that as long as there’s a tub of ready to eat slow carbs in the fridge, a meal that won’t make you feel wretched isn’t far away.

We’ve all got more important things to chase after at the moment. I’m pretty sure that dinner doesn’t need to be one of them.

Quick Quinoa with Roasted Ratatouille and Lamb

Serves 2

(Nb, there’s a more extensive, terrific roasted ratatouille recipe in the ‘One Month Carb Detox’ Ebook, which is a cracking way to re jig your eating habits in the new year. Just add some quinoa and watch the meal stretch even further- lunch tomorrow; sorted too).


(nb, this will make more cooked quinoa than you need. Keep the rest in the fridge as the base for salads and stews for the week)

3/4 cup of quinoa
1 1/2 cup of water

Roasted Ratatouille

250 g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 head of garlic, top lopped off
1 red pepper, core removed and cut into 16ths (either slivers or small chunks)
1 eggplant, top lopped off and cut into chunks the size of playing dice
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8ths
3 tbsp olive oil
good pinch of salt
30 grams of feta, crumbled
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds/pepitas
1 handful of basil leaves or flat leaf parsley

Optional: 2 lamb chops or chicken breasts, barbecued or grilled.

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 150 C/300F.

2) Cook your quinoa. Rinse it well and drain and then combine with the water. Place in a microwave safe bowl with the lid on and cook on high for 10 minutes, until the majority of the water has been absorbed. Leave with the lid on for 2-3 minutes more until all the liquid has been absorbed then fluff with a fork. This can now be served cold, sauteed with other vegetables as a pilaf or stirred into soups or stews.

3) Place in a roasting dish the cherry tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, eggplant and onion. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 1 hr- 1.5 hrs, until the vegetables have softened and puckered.

4) Use gloves to squeeze the garlic out of the skins. Rumple the soft garlic cloves, roast vegetables and any roasting juices through 1 cup of the cooked quinoa. Crumble the feta over the top. Sprinkle with torn basil leaves and pumpkin seeds. Serve as is, with some soft eggs or as a side to a grilled lamb chop or chicken thighs.

{ 1 Comment }
  1. I will not get into a whole thing about it, but not sleeping is definitely one of the worst things there are. No wonder it is used as a means of torture. I feel for you, really.
    On a different note, I like all these versions of quinoa and will be trying several soon as I am thinking of cleansing my system of pasta, bread etc. Keep ’em coming… and Happy New Year!

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