Vegetarian Chili on Quinoa and Spicy Caramel Popcorn

by Kelly on January 7, 2010

Every year, my New Year’s resolutions are the same — be nicer and be healthier. This quick and easy menu won’t help with the “nicer” goal but sure helps with the “healthier” bit. We especially loved this dinner after a month of calorie-heavy holiday and birthday meals. Reuben’s recent discovery of the quinoa-filled menu at Protein Bar in the Chicago Loop was the inspiration for his chili and quinoa creation. For anyone else looking to lose weight or eat healthier this year, quinoa is a great dinner choice. It’s high protein, high fiber, and satisfying enough that you don’t miss the mashed potatoes or pasta that might otherwise be on your plate.

Even tonight’s dessert isn’t too decadent. Though drenched in caramel, the popcorn is relatively low in fat (only 3 tablespoons of butter!). The kicky cayenne has also been shown to increase metabolism. And, of course, it’s tasty, as in hide-it-or-I’ll-eat-the-whole-batch tasty.

Vegetarian Chili on Quinoa

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon each of cumin, dried oregano, salt
2 stalks celery, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 x 4‑oz (110‑g) can diced green chilies
1 x 14-oz (400‑g) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 14-oz (400‑g) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 28-oz (2 x 400‑g) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup (170 g) quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water
2 cups (300 g) corn kernels, defrosted if frozen
garnishes: sour cream or plain yogurt, minced jalapeno, minced green onion, shredded cheddar cheese

In a Dutch oven or other large saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add the spices, salt, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the green chilies, beans, tomatoes and chili powder and simmer for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan with a lid, combine the quinoa with the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed. Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork and set aside (covered) until the chili is ready.

About 5 minutes before serving, mix the corn into the chili mixture. Continue cooking until the corn is heated through, about 5 minutes.

For each serving, spoon the chili over the cooked quinoa and garnish to taste with sour cream or plain yogurt, minced jalapeno, minced green onion, and cheddar cheese.


Spicy Caramel Popcorn
from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 quarts

nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup (100 g) popcorn kernels
2 cups (250 g) salted peanuts (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups (600 g) sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt

Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas, a very large mixing bowl and two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or a thin slick of oil.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels. Toss with salted peanuts, if using.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.

Have the two large baking sheets ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup (120 ml) water. Cook over a high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and don’t worry if it doesn’t all come out of the pot, you’ll have plenty. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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