Thursday, June 4, 2009

Veggie Might: Quinoa with Mustard Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms - Back on the Lunch Wagon

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Dear Readers, thank you all for your insightful, helpful suggestions and comments over the last week. You are amazing. Stay tuned to this space for more super veggie action.

So, I have a confession too. I’ve been a bad frugal eater of late. In the past few months, I have slacked off from brown-bagging my lunches every day. This lapse is mostly due to a combination of work overload and personal commitments, but laziness plays a big factor.

It’s an age-old story: woman works a 10 hour day, woman makes 30-minute walk home, on the way woman grabs something quick from the store not thinking about the next day—only that cookies sound good right now. Woman mindlessly buys a bunch of mustard greens, some shitake mushrooms, and a package of Ginger-Os.

At home, exhausted, dog walked, woman is too tired to think of anything to fix for dinner, let alone lunch for tomorrow. Woman eats cookies while watching reruns of House and Dr. G, Medical Examiner.

The next day: oh the regret. Woman must face midtown Manhattan for lunch, where a salad can run nearly $8. Woman’s alternative is the corporate cafeteria, where options are limited, but somewhat cheaper. Woman vows to bring lunch tomorrow.

So I did. That night I opened my pantry and stared, though the dog and the Ginger-Os called me to join them on the couch. An idea began to form. My recent practice of Asian cooking from books (thanks Madhur) gave me the courage do a little experimenting.

I pulled down quinoa and dried chilies. I had fresh ginger and shallots on hand, plus the mustard greens and mushrooms from my zombiefied shopping trip. The shitakes were an obvious splurge (at 5.99 for 1/2 lb!—that’s what the sign said, the tricksters). But I only got 2 ounces, and once it a while, it’s nice to treat yourself.

Before I knew it, I had whipped up a fast, easy, and super tasty meal. And as I suspected, it was ten-times better the next day for lunch. And even with the expensive mushrooms, it came in way under what I would have spent on lunch in the neighborhood or the company café.

The shallots, ginger, and chilies get sautéed in a bit of oil to release the flavors. The greens go in, and as they wilt, so do the coarsely sliced mushrooms. After about five minutes, a bit of broth is added and the whole thing simmers for another five. Toss it over quinoa and voila! Spicy and satisfying.

It’s been a while since I improvised a dish, and almost as long since I cooked with lunch in mind. It felt great. When I cook on the weekend, I usually manage to have leftovers for a couple of workdays, but I know I can do better. Now, I’m back on the bandwagon.

Now if I can just replace the cookies for supper…

Quinoa with Mustard Greens and Shitake Mushrooms
Serves 2 as entrée
Serves 3 as side
(Note: this picture comes from a similar recipe at a blog called Lots of Stuff. Leigh's camera is acting up, so we found a photo that best approximates the dish. - Kris)

1/2 cup quinoa (makes approx. 1 1/4 cups cooked)
2 + 1/4 cups water or vegetable broth

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 shallot (2 cloves), minced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
2 dried red chilies (pinky finger sized)
4 cups mustard greens (approx. 1/2 lb)
2 oz shitake mushrooms, thickly sliced

1) Start quinoa. Rinse well and add to saucepan with 2 cups of boiling water or vegetable broth. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until rings separate from the seeds. Drain and set aside. Reserve excess broth.

2) Prep vegetables. Mince shallots, wash and remove stems from mustard greens. It’s okay if they are still wet from washing. Cut into wide ribbons. Remove dirt from mushrooms with a napkin or towel. Cut into wide slices.

3) In a heavy skillet or wok, heat oil on medium high and add shallots. Sauté for 2–3 minutes until they start to become clear. Stir in diced ginger and dried chilies. Reduce heat to medium and continue to sauté for 3 more minutes or until shallots are clear.

4) Add mustard greens and stir to combine. The greens will wilt quickly.

5) Add mushrooms and combine well.

6) If the quinoa is still cooking, carefully scoop about 1/8 cup of broth and add to greens mixture. Otherwise, use 1/8 of reserve broth. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes or so.

7) Toss greens with quinoa and you are good to go. Oh, so good.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
(Totals/2): 257 calories, 6g fat, $1.95
(Totals/3): 171 calories, 4g fat, $1.30

1/2 cup quinoa: 313 calories, 5g fat, $1.39
1/4 cup vegetable broth: 3 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 1/2 tsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, $.04
1 shallot: 40 calories, 0g fat, $.12
2 tbsp fresh ginger: 12 calories, 0g fat, $.05
2 dried red chilies: negligible calories and fat, $.02
4 cups mustard greens: 60 calories, 0g fat, $.75
2 oz shitake mushrooms: 26 calories, 0g fat, $1.49
TOTALS: 514 calories, 12g fat, $3.91
PER SERVING: (totals/2): 257 calories, 6g fat, $1.95
PER SERVING: (totals/3): 171 calories, 4g fat, $1.30

(By subbing a less costly ‘shroom, the amount of green needed for this dish goes way down.)

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