Of course, salsa from a jar is great for nachos. But cooking with it as a starter for some red rice or red quinoa is an easy idea to serve as a side to any plant-based meal. Red quinoa is also great substitute in meatless tacos, yielding a clumpy, slightly caramelized, meat-like filling.
This was inspired by several cultural references ranging from tomato-based rice dishes such as Mexican red rice, several variations of Jollof rice throughout Africa, and watching old clips of Gullah chef Bill Green make his red rice on YouTube. The ingredients are quite similar across cultures, just in a different context and with less water.
If you’re like me, salsa is one of those things that can end up taking over your fridge. There are so many fantastic brands now available that offer almost-fresh-like ingredients with very little additives. Passing by a new brand while you’re shopping – or a brands’ new flavor – is always enticing. It’s easy to get carried away. It’s not long before you all of a sudden realize you have 3 jars of salsa hanging out in your fridge for God knows how long. You only make so many nachos, so it’s time to use salsa as a starter for some red quinoa.
What You Need
- pre-cooked quinoa
- any brand or salsa from a jar
- diced white onions
- canola oil
Because this is an easy idea usually made with leftovers, the amounts are completely up to you. Work with what you have. For this post, I used half of a large white onion, with about 8-10 ounces of salsa(a little more than half of a 16-oz. jar), and roughly 3 cups of cooked quinoa. However, if you’re not working with leftovers, feel free to take the time to experiment with the ratios and see how you like it. Furthermore, this is a great idea because each time you reheat this in a skillet, the tomato caramelizes and more more and it becomes meat-like. Quinoa is quite resilient.
If you want to take this a step further, add some herbs and spices like cumin, chili powder and Mexican oregano to the onions as they’re cooking. However, it’s really not necessary because most salsas already has spices added, depending on the brand.
What To Do
- Cook your quinoa according to packet instructions and let it cool completely. Note, making this with freshly cooked hot or warm quinoa will result in mushiness.
- Over medium heat, sauté diced onions in about 3 tablespoons of canola oil until they start to brown. If you want to add extra spices, now is the time to do that. Let the flavor of the spices bloom in the hot oil and onions for at least 30 seconds.
- Stir in the salsa until the browned onions are evenly incorporated and cook until large bubbles are happening in the salsa.
- Stir the quinoa into the salsa the same way someone would cook hamburger meat for Sloppy Joes. It may be clumpy, but don’t worry. Just keep breaking it apart and distributing it evenly among the salsa. You don’t want one uniform blanket layer of quinoa, otherwise it will steam. Be sure to carve out little pockets of air in the mixture so air can get through to cook off some of the liquid.
- Turn up the heat to high to promote caramelization. Meanwhile gradually “flip” break apart sections of the quinoa with a spatula, and/or do an occasional shake-flip of the entire pan. If it seems a bit mushy, don’t sweat. It will come together more as it cools. This cooking step should take no longer than 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, then let the red quinoa cool down to a warm temperature, then enjoy!
How to Enjoy Red Quinoa
As mentioned previously, red quinoa is fantastic as a taco filling, when you’re not in the mood to consume meat. The onions are important here to add some added moisture as well as flavor from their browning. More browning means more flavor, especially each time you reheat them in a skillet.