A new take on a classic Greek recipe: spinach and quinoa cooked in a rich tomato based sauce.
Quinoa is not a grain we grew up with, and it is not traditionally used in Greek cooking. The grains you will more commonly find in Greek recipes include semolina, corn, barley, bulgur and whole wheat berries. All delicious and all used to make incredible foods and desserts.
But we do love quinoa. Our first introduction to this super grain was while one of us was an undergraduate in university. Walking through the neighbourhood around campus, trying to find dinner to carry us through an evening spent in the library, we came across a health food store. Although quite commonplace now, at the time natural food stores which sold things like vegan mayonnaise, tofu, nori, and quinoa were rare. Optimum was a two floor shop; the first floor on street level sold aromatherapy oils, incense, books and herbal medicines. The basement level was the grocery store and it was here that one could wander the aisles and see things that were foreign and fascinating.
The people who shopped at Optimum were a diverse bunch. You had the students who were hungrily looking for something that was quick and affordable; the vegan pate sandwich wraps were popular choices. But the crowd was much more eclectic than that. Business men and women, mothers carrying children in colourful cloth wraps, people with shaved heads dressed in white wraps, nose rings, dreadlocks, you saw it all. What you didn’t really see (or we didn’t really notice) were customers that looked like our parents; the immigrant population at that time didn’t appear drawn to a store where organic cucumbers cost several times what regular cucumbers cost.
It was at around this time that the same Optimum shopper came across the Moosewood Collective Cookbook; a gem of a book for anyone looking to explore new vegetarian and vegan dishes. This book opened up a whole new world; one that included more Moosewood cookbooks as well as sprouted legumes and miso and of course, quinoa; all ingredients that could be found at Optimum. Looking back we realize that although our parents’ had the largest impact on how we relate to food and cooking, that little health food store (which sadly does not exist anymore) was pretty important as well. And so we figured what better way to pay homage to both of these influences than by combining them in a way that is perfectly delicious.
Spanakorizo is a classic Greek food made with spinach with rice. It is a dish that probably every Greek kid grew up eating; healthy, easy, and relatively inexpensive. As children, we hated spanakorizo and devised all sorts of ruses to have our parents believe we had finished our plate while somehow managing to dump it in the trash. Horrible children! But time has passed, tastes have changed, and we have grown to love spanakorizo. And, we love quinoa. And, we love playing around with new ideas, and we get excited when something so different but so obvious, ends up being so good. You can imagine that spanakoquinoa has made us very, very happy.
What’s the difference between white, red and black quinoa?
Nothing really. The white quinoa is the one which is usually more readily available, but you may be able to find the red and black variety as well. You may also find packaging that includes a mix of the white and red quinoa. The flavours are pretty much the same we think, and they cook up the same way (although some say that the white quinoa takes a little less time to cook).
What is quinoa?
Pronounced KEEN-wah, it is the edible seeds of a flowering plant in the amaranth family, so technically it is not a cereal grain but a pseudo-cereal. Meaning, the seeds are prepared the way you would a traditional grain. These little seeds are powerhouses of nutrition; packed with protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals they are a wonderful addition to your diet.
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- 1 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 6 tbsp chopped red onion
- 22 ounces fresh spinach, washed we use baby spinach
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
- 1/2 tsp pepper or to taste
- fresh lemon juice, if desired
- Rinse your quinoa and place it in a pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium, cover your pot and cook until the water has been absorbed. This will usually take 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot add your olive oil and red onion. Cook over medium heat stirring regularly until the onion has softened.
- To the large pot add the spinach, parsley, tomato sauce, water, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Once your quinoa is cooked, add that to the pot with the spinach. Stir well and continue to cook the spinach and quinoa until the sauce which is left behind is not to watery. This will take a total of approximately 30 minutes.
- If after 30 minutes you find that there is still too much liquid in your pot, cook it for a little while longer.
- Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if desired.