Mexican Quinoa Casserole

The trailer park we’re staying at is a truly unique operation. Essentially it’s a retirement park, so most of the residents here are 65+. Some of these folks live in mobile homes and are here year round. Others own a site here and have either a fifth-wheel, travel trailer or motorhome (I’m pleased that I finally understand difference between these three entities; I’m new to this, remember) parked on it, and this is their full-time dwelling. These folks (or ‘full-timers’ as they call themselves) may come and go in their vehicle of choice throughout the year, but the park is their home base.

A typical fifth-wheel bearing typical fifth-wheel mural art.

The remainder of the people at the park, like us, are only here temporarily. Our situation is a little unusual, as we’re staying here for an extended period while we look for a permanent place to live. We’re already 3 months into the sixth month limit for anyone with children under the age of 19, so if we don’t find a house to buy soon we’re going to be in a predicament, to put it kindly. We do have a few other options – hauling the rig down the highway to a different park being the most plausible one – but I really hope we don’t have to resort to dry camping. Please, anything but dry camping. If enjoying running water makes me high-maintenance, so be it!

The majority of people who come here as visitors – most of whom are families with young kids – stay for only a short time during the Summer months when the weather is good and they can partake in the outdoor pool and other fun-in-the-sun type activities. These touristy types cleared out of the park with the onset of Fall and cooler temperatures, leaving just us three die-hards and the old folks. Hunter is stoked because this means he has several acres-worth of fawning surrogate grandparents all to himself.

So in most ways our current whereabouts don’t at all conform to the stereotypes of trailer park life. There are a few humorous exceptions, which I’ll describe in a future post. But conspicuously absent are the crappy broken-down cars, pregnant women sucking on cigarettes, ex-convicts drunk on cheap liquor and fighting each other with kitchen chairs, or anything else you’d typically see depicted on the Canadian cult TV show Trailer Park Boys. However, as a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek nod to these stereotypes, I offer this casserole recipe, which I envision as a healthied-up, vegetarian take on a trailer park classic, Hamburger Helper!

If protein is what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty of it in this dish. In my version the fatty ground beef is replaced with veggie ground round and black beans, and the reconstituted noodles with fluffy quinoa. Fresh green pepper, jalapeno and corn further distance it from the original. I’m sure that Ricky, Julian and Bubbles still prefer Doritos over quinoa (I’d like to hear them try to pronounce it!), but surely they wouldn’t disapprove of you washing the whole thing down with a rum-and-coke or two. You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl!

Recipe: Mexican Quinoa Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 1/2 cups water (to cook quinoa)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 small green pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced (seeds removed, if you prefer)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 340g package of vegetarian ground round
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans
  • 398ml can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated (using largest teeth on grater) or your choice of vegan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cilantro (for garnish)

Method:

Prepare quinoa: Combine quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and set aside. While quinoa is cooking complete the following steps:

Prepare veggie ground round mixture: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add diced onion, green pepper and jalapeno pepper and saute until onion is transparent and peppers are tender. Stir in garlic, red chili flakes, paprika and chili powder and saute until garlic turns golden brown. Crumble veggie ground round into skillet. Add corn, black beans, diced tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Stir thoroughly until everything is combined. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Remove from heat.

Assemble casserole: In a round casserole dish (mine is about 8″ in diameter and 5″ deep), layer in 1/3  of the veggie ground round mixture, 1/2 of the cooked quinoa, and 1/3 of the grated cheese. Layer in another 1/3 of the veggie ground round mixture, the remaining 1/2 of the cooked quinoa, and another 1/3 of the grated cheese. Finally, layer in the last 1/3 of the veggie ground round mixture and top with the remaining 1/3 of the grated cheese.

Place casserole dish in a 350F oven and bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Set oven to broil and cook for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and turning brown. Remove from oven and serve, topping eat portion with cilantro and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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