A few weeks ago I had an insatiable craving for caramelized onions. I know, super random, but I really just wanted that delicious sweet flavor. I had also offered to contribute a side dish to a meal with a gluten-free host and several vegetarians. My immediate thought of satisfying the vegetarian-protein conundrum and making something that the host could eat as well was quinoa, and since I had to opportunity to cook something up, I knew I was going to make caramelized onions.
Let me just take a moment to talk about quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It’s a beautiful food. Although it looks and acts like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. And like many other seeds, it’s pretty high in protein. It’s a vegetarian’s best friend because it’s a complete protein and it makes a filling base to many dishes (not to mention it has a delicious, nutty flavor). You can use it in almost any dish you would normally use rice (though quinoa isn’t as starchy as rice, so you can’t really use it to make a true risotto – I’ve tried). Quinoa is super easy to cook, and the boxes they come in always have instructions. Quinoa also comes in both red and white varieties. Honestly, I think they taste the same, so it’s really just a preference of color.
Anyway, back to my side dish. In my mind I had quinoa and caramelized onions, and I decided to expand on that sweet caramelized flavor. In other words – time to roast some veggies! In the end, I roasted garlic, peppers, and cherry tomatoes, tossed it in with the caramelized onions and quinoa, and added some almonds for texture, and rounded it all off with balsamic vinegar (for the record, I love balsamic vinegar) a bit of basil to brighten the dish. I think I just found a new favorite summer recipe.
Oh, and I know the instructions look a little daunting, but I promise this is an easy recipe. I just broke it down in the order that you should do things in order to use your time efficiently, and I probably added in more details than you really need. So while there might be a lot of things going on, they’re all happening at the same time, in a very doable way.
Quinoa and Roasted Vegetables
1 cup quinoa (I did half white, half red)
2 cups water
4 yellow and/or orange peppers, halved and seeded
3 pints of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 yellow onions, cut in half and sliced thinly
3 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup of dry white wine
2-3 tbs. balsamic vinegar, divided
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
3/4 cup of slivered almonds
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
1. First, deal with the peppers, since they will take the longest, start to finish. Take each pepper half and place them cut side down on a baking sheet (I recommend making cleanup easy and putting down tinfoil onto each of the baking sheets you use). Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over them and rub in to make sure the top of each one is coated. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the skins are slightly charred and very wrinkled. Once you’ve reached that point, remove them from the oven, and cover the peppers with a tinfoil tent. Set aside and let them steam.
2. While the peppers are in the oven, set up your quinoa. Most boxes will have directions on them, but in case they don’t… Use any combination of regular and red quinoa you have on hand, and put it in a small pot with 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Stir every few minutes until all the liquid is absorbed, which should take about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. As the quinoa cooks, heat up 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan and toss in your onions. Caramelizing onions is a (relatively) long process, but definitely worth it. Just keep an eye on those bad boys and stir them every few minutes over medium heat until they become a nice, honey brown. If the edges of the onions are starting to burn, reduce the heat. At some point, when they’re definitely getting browner, they will look a little dry. At this point, add the wine. It will help deepen the flavor of the caramelization, and keep them from drying out. The whole process should take about 20 minutes, and in the end you’ll have delicious, sweet onions that you will want to eat straight out of the pan.
Seriously. I could eat this by the spoonful.
4. Once you’ve got your onions started, look to your cherry tomatoes. Put the tomatoes on a cookie sheet (again, I recommend lining it with tinfoil first) and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of both olive oil, as well as 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar, on top, and toss with your hands to coat. Also add the cloves of garlic (peeled and whole) to the sheet, because they need the same amount of time in the oven. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the top (err on the side of too little, since you can always adjust them at the end). Stick the sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst and their skins are wrinkled.
5. When the tomatoes come out, drain the liquid and let them cool a bit before handling. Take the garlic and mince it, then add it to the caramelized onions (which should be close to done by now). This step is helpful in two ways: 1) if the garlic isn’t fully roasted, it will finish off the cooking, and 2) it incorporates the flavors in a great way, which helps spread the flavor of the garlic throughout the dish.
6. By now,you should be only waiting on the peppers. Once they’ve cooled (about 15 minutes), peel the skins off, which should come off easily after we let them steam inside the tinfoil, and give them a nice chop.
This is what you buy in a jar of oil. See how easy it is to make it yourself?
7. Combine all the cooked ingredients in a bowl or container and toss gently (the cherry tomatoes are pretty fragile) with the remaining balsamic vinegar and the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the almonds just before serving, so they don’t get soggy. Serve cold or at room temperature.