26 August 2012

Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quinoa

I'm not gonna lie.  I think this is the best dish I have ever made.  Seriously.  How's that for an opener?

The first time I made this dish was after a previous night's failed attempt at caramelized onions.  Determined to get it right, I tried again the following night with exceptional results.  Having achieved maximum caramelization, I then had to think of a way to use them.  A quick peek in the fridge and trip to the pantry provided the inspiration for this Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quinoa.  And as soon as the hubs and I took our first bites, we just looked at each other.  It was so good, I almost felt it was a fluke.  So I had to make it again, just to check, this time with unpaid food testers and non-relatives for corroboration.

Yet again, amazing deliciousness and a very happy crowd.  The testers started with a polite single serving each, while the hubs and I set manners aside and took heaps based off of previous experience.  Everyone ended up taking seconds of this dish, and even my friend who does not eat cheese (gasp!) sung its praises.  Possibly my biggest accomplishment to date, getting Joel to eat cheese.

This dish is dreamy.  Caramelized onions are the show stopper in this dish.  They provide a divinely sweet yet savory flavor that can only be achieved by some truly low and slow cooking.  It takes time to get there, but the flavor blossoms in an incredible way that makes every second worth it.  

Next important is the parmesan.  This is no time to use the canned parmesan, folks.  Get a decent piece from your local market and grate it fresh.  The salty, nutty flavor of fresh parmesan is perfect with the onions.  Together, the two are a dynamic duo.  Spinach adds lovely color and breaks up the richness a bit.  And quinoa works as a perfect vessel to transport all this goodness to your mouth.  Packed with protein and calcium, this grain is a vegetarian's dream.  Gluten free goodness.

If you manage not to eat it all at once, this side reheats wonderfully.  You could make a double or triple batch and heat it up all week.  And it is simply incredible with eggs for breakfast.  Very simple, clean cooking and delicious dish that will make your taste buds tap dance.  If I never come up with a better dish, I am happy to sit back and eat this forever.

Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quinoa (2 servings)
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions
  • 1/4 tsp add'l olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 c quinoa
  • 2 c vegetable broth
  •  fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 c roughly chopped spinach
To caramelize your onions, place a large skillet over medium-low to medium heat, depending on how hot your burners get.  Cut the top and bottom off your onion and peel off the skin.  Set the onion on one of the flat ends and cut in half from top to bottom. Turn each half onto its side and slice into small sections, about 5-6 depending on your onion size. 

Add the oil to the heated pan.  When the oil is hot, add your onions and stir well to coat.  Add a generous pinch of salt - this will make the caramelization process take a bit longer but assist in drawing the water out of the onions.  Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are golden and very soft.  This usually takes me about an hour....so fold some laundry, clean up the kitchen or just curl up with a good book and your pup (my personal favorite!)  When onions have reached desired level of done-ness, turn off heat.  You can leave them sitting in the pan if you are making the dish fresh, or prepare ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for a few days.

To prepare quinoa, begin by washing well in a large bowl of water.  If you skip this step, the quinoa will taste dirty... definitely worth the 5 minutes!  Dump into a bowl, cover with a generous amount of water and swirl around with your hand for a minute.  Dump off the dirty water and refill bowl with water.  Drain in a small wire mesh strainer or dump off as much liquid as possible.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and the minced garlic, stirring for about 30 seconds.  Then add the quinoa and stir to remove the garlic from direct heat.  Let cook for about a minute, then add the vegetable broth and pepper.  No need to add salt...you'll get plenty from the onions and parmesan!  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot.  Let cook for about 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa has little white squiggles appear in the grains and the water is completely absorbed.  

Grate the parmesan and roughly chop your spinach.  Add both to the pot of quinoa along with your prepared caramelized onions.  Stir together well until parm is melted and spinach is slightly wilted.  Serve hot and garnish with additional parmesan if desired.  Warning - you will eat more of this than planned.


  1. Finally made this tonight as a GF side dish - we loved it. I will make it again soon! MOM

    1. Thanks, mommy dearest. PS - its' a great dish to make ahead and bring to a party...it reheats exceptionally! If needed, you can add a little extra broth but it usually is moist enough on its own.

  2. OOOO, yum! I made this tonight and added mushrooms to the carmelized onion mix... REALLY GOOD!

    1. Sounds like a fabulous addition! I'll have to give that whirl next time.....

  3. Oh, this looks like a delish that I need for dinner! Yum!

    1. Hope you sampled & enjoyed! I'm making it again tonight...a classic in our household!