Full disclosure: If you don’t like zucchini (ahem, Hippo, I am looking in your general direction), you will likely not enjoy this recipe. All others, carry on.
For about a year in high school (I believe it was the year I took Biology), I was a vegetarian. The idea of eating meat of any kind, along with all the microbiotic creatures that live in it, just turned my stomach. My grandmother dealt with this as well as she could, making fish (which was sometimes ok), finding recipes with beans and other non-animal proteins and making lots of salad. My grandfather grumbled and worried that I wasn’t meeting all my nutritional needs. My mother rolled her eyes and figured it was a phase.
It was, in fact, a phase but what got me out of it wasn’t age or maturity or even a craving (true story, my cousin, M., was also a vegetarian for a time, much longer than I- she broke it one summer when she was at my house and I was cooking pork with brown sugar and soy sauce. She caved and has been a meat-eater since.), it was politeness. We went to Israel the summer between my sophomore and junior year and I couldn’t refuse the food offered to me for fear of offending my cousin or the family friends who were coking for us. I came back from that trip eating meat.
However, I do still try to have one or two meat-free nights a week. My husband has slowly adjusted to this and no longer asks (a la Wendy’s), “Where’s the beef?” or says “This would be better if it had meat.” I have a few tried-and-true go-to recipes but am always looking for more. Often they come from Vegetarian Times which my friend, K., is nice enough to pass on to me when she’s done with them. These are some hard-core vegetarian recipes, often vegan. Generally I don’t expect them to be that good as I do love my dairy. I tend to adjust them, sometimes by using real cheese vs. soy cheese or sometimes by using chicken broth instead of veggie broth. Sometimes I get lucky and it ends up really good- other times, not so much. I like to think of my grandmother when I make these- she worked so hard to keep me fed in my veggie-phase and I’d like to think she’d appreciate how much work I’m doing now to ensure that her granddaughter eats the most healthy food she can. I also like to think my grandfather would still be grumbling as I serve up my meat-free meals a few nights a week.
Try this recipe- it was surprisingly tasty. I did make some changes, which I’ll note here, that make it not vegetarian or vegan. I also think that if I’d had a mandolin I’d have been able to slice the zucchini a bit thinner and that might have been better. Nonetheless, this one may make it into my weekly rotation.
Adapted from Vegetarian Times, August 2011
2 large zucchini (or 4 small to medium), peeled and cut lengthwise into 12 slices about 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken broth (or veg broth)
1 cup quinoa rinsed and drained (I use red quinoa because I like it better but you could use white)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped onion (I used about 1/3 of a medium size onion)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon oregano (I used fresh)
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2-4 tablespoons of cream cheese (or you could use non-dairy cream cheese)
1 25 oz. jar of marinara sauce (I used Paul Newman’s organic and it was pretty good)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and parmesan or you could use non-dairy)
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and slice the zucchini. Place on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Cover with paper towels and let them sit so that the water will drain out of them.
Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in lots of cold water. Make sure you rinse it well as this will help to minimize the bitterness.
Set aside to drain. In a small pot, heat some olive oil (maybe 1-2 tablespoons at the most) over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Let this cook for about a minute and then add the quinoa. Let this toast over the heat for several minutes. This also gets rid of the bitterness. I think I let mine go somewhere between five and ten minutes, stirring once in a while.
Add the broth, tomato sauce and oregano. Bring it to a boil and then cover it, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes.
Pour about 1/3 of a cup of marinara sauce into a square 8 inch pan. Place four of the zucchini slices on top, as you would for lasagna.
Check your quinoa and if it’s done, add the cream cheese, half the shredded cheese and the herbs (basil and parsley). I’m lucky enough to have a nice fresh herb garden on my steps, courtesy of my friend K.
Stir the quinoa and the yummy dairy and herbs you added until everything is melty and combined. The heat will melt the cheese and it will actually taste really good. You could use this as a way to serve quinoa, in fact, maybe with a nice salad and some crusty bread.
But we are going to use it for our lasagna. Spread about half of this mixture over the zucchini slices in the pan.
Top this with 1/3 cup of marinara and then four more zucchini slices, then the rest of the quinoa mixture.
Cover this with the last of the zucchini slices and the rest of the marinara. Top with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is all brown and bubbly and the zucchini is tender.
This was seriously good. I mean, no one will ever mistake it for meat lasagna with noodles but if you think of it as more of a zucchini-italian flavored casserole, it’s delicious! Plus, quinoa is all kinds of good for you and I’m always looking for new ways to make it since the texture is, um, different. It totally works in this recipe.
Also, in the spirit of organizing (why, no, I haven’t yet alphabetized my recipe index, why?), I re-did our meal planning board to incorporate our shopping list as well as our leftovers list:
Finally, I had some extra veggies (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini) that I needed to use up so I tossed them in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a few garlic cloves as well as the other 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.
I roasted them at 475 for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with them but I’m thinking maybe serve them over rice, kind of like a roasted ratatouille or with pasta as a veggie pasta dish. I’ll keep you posted.