What isn’t there to love about quinoa? I certainly can’t think of anything. It cooks up fine in a rice cooker, absorbs sauces and dressings without getting soggy and packs a surfeit of complete protein for those nights when meat seems too costly or unhealthy.
I make something with quinoa in it at least once a week. Its versatility makes it great for breakfasts (cook it in hot milk like oatmeal), lunches (dried fruit, nuts, a vegetable or two and a dressing) and, of course, dinners. Plus, eating it makes me feel virtuous. And surely a virtuous, healthy eater like me will always be able to find a seat on the subway, or win a medium-size lottery.
But there are times when I want something wicked to temper that piety.
Miserly as I am, I enjoy discovering ways to sharply cut costs without compromising on the thing I hold most dear — taste. And that’s why I love the hot Italian sausage that I can buy at Fairway a few hours after it’s made. A single link, which is a little over 1/3 pound, costs about $1.50. The meat, when removed from its casing and rolled into 1/2-inch boulettes, makes nearly two dozen amazing meatballs. Simply browned or browned and braised, they’re great in dinners and even greater in next-day lunches.
So tonight, I browned the meatballs in a little olive oil, then tossed in some Swiss chard. Once the chard began to wilt, I added orange bell peppers I’d roasted on the stovetop and a simple tomato sauce I’d made for pizzas the night before.
I then turned the heat to low and let the meatballs braise in the sauce until they were tender. Smelling them braise and seeing them bob to the surface like alligators made me want to pull a Garfield.
And we did, a few minutes later. I took a photo of our empty bowls, but I wouldn’t want to make you feel existentially empty, as I did when I realized there wasn’t any more to be had. So here’s a studio-wannabe photo and a recipe instead.
Quinoa with Meatballs, Chard and Peppers
1 cup quinoa
1 link hot Italian sausage
3 orange bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and roasted
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 14-oz can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp red chili flakes (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
(For tomato sauce) — In a mixing bowl or blender, combine tomatoes, garlic, oregano, 1-1/2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Puree with immersion or regular blender until smooth. Set aside.
(For quinoa) — Cook quinoa in a rice cooker, using the same ratio as you would with rice. Keep warm until ready to serve.
(For meatballs) — Remove sausage from casing and roll into small meatballs about 1/2-inch in diameter, taking care not to overwork meat. Slice peppers into strips and cut leaves of Swiss chard in chiffonade, discarding stems.
In a large skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high. Sear meatballs until evenly browned on all sides. Add chard and saute until it begins to wilt, about 1 minutes. Stir in peppers, then add tomato sauce and chili flakes, if using. Turn heat to low, and let meatballs braise for 15 minutes to 20 minutes, or until very tender. Serve over quinoa.