Broccoli Bean Soup

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In the interest of honesty, I have to admit that I usually feel a bit deceptive whenever I record one of my own recipes on this blog (so about 95% of the time).  Recipes are ontologically systematic, and if anything, the way I cook is the opposite of systematic.  I rarely use measurements and I am usually taste-testing everything throughout the whole process and adding spices or throwing in onions according to what my taste buds deem necessary.  The only problem with this is that I am now accountable to a blog, and I cannot just give out a nebulous recipe comprised of “a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of love all thrown together in a pot.”  I am slowly getting better at self-discipline and training myself to pay attention to the amounts I am using, but I am far from perfect in this regard.  I feel I owe it to people to offer this as both a disclaimer and an encouragement to think a little outside the box and adjust your ingredients to match your gustatory preferences.

That said, this wonderful soup was made in a haphazard fashion, and while I think the measurements of the ingredients provided will yield a most satisfactory result, I cannot be too sure.  So exercise your freedom and edit as you see fit should you decide to stir up this delicious soup in your own pots.

Ingredients

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup milk or almond milk
2/3 cup carrot juice (simply puree 3 large steamed carrots with a bit of water)
1/2 cup brown rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup cooked kidney beans
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

Use a food processor to blend together the broccoli with the milk, onion, garlic and parmesan cheese. Pulse until well blended. Transfer the mixture to a medium size pot over low heat. Add the carrot juice, beans, rice, salt and pepper. Cook for an hour and serve hot. Enjoy! Tastes great with a side of tortilla chips.

Serves about 4
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Sesame-Seared Salmon with Spinach

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There is something fishy going on.  My pictures keep getting erased from my phone.  I actually have a whole slew of beautiful food that I can no longer account for, and in this day and age, you can’t just put up a post without photographic evidence.  So I guess I’ll have to make everything all over again, or at least re-evaluate and figure out which recipes tasted the best anyway.

This salmon was a winner, but it seems this fish just does not like all the attention, or maybe it’s the camera itself that is sick of my new-founded picture snapping habits.  I’ve had to re-create the meal three times over and I’m starting to get pretty suspicious.  Good thing there’s always Elvis to remind me that my relationship with salmon is worth the time and effort.  Love requires commitment, and it finally paid off to persevere through my suspicions.  Plus it afforded me the opportunity to eat more salmon and work on anger management– a clear win-win situation.

Thanks to BBC Food for the recipe, which I tweaked to match my ingredients. Thanks to all the recent salmon sales that have ensured me with a freezer full of expectant pink fillets.  This particular preparation leaves the kitchen smelling wonderfully similar to a sushi bar.

Ingredients:

1 lb fillet of salmon (or a similar amount)
4 lemons
3 tbsp sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 large handfuls of spinach

In a large pan, heat the sesame oil. Coat on side of the salmon in sesame seeds and lay seed-side down in the hot oil. Let it brown over medium-high heat. Flip it and begin to brown the other side. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the side with the sesame seeds. In a bowl, combine the juice of four lemons with the soy sauce and stir. Pour the mixture over the salmon, cover and reduce heat to low until salmon has been cooked through. It won’t take too long, as the lemon alone can “cook” the salmon. Remove from heat and wilt the spinach in the extra juices of the pan. Serve hot. Enjoy!

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(^^By this point I had run out of cilantro, but it was just fine. I ate it with little sweet peppers instead.^^)

Cauliflower Zucchini Curry

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The weather has been calling for lots of soups and stews lately, with all this dampness hanging in the air and making everyone sick. Luckily, this curry happens to be a great defense for the immune system, in large part because of its spices. Cumin and turmeric are well known for their healing and fortifying properties. The carrot juice provides the vitamin A, while the kale is chock-full of wonderful vitamins. Both the cauliflower and zucchini are anti-inflammatory vegetables with B vitamins. Cauliflower also contains stores of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin K.
I like using cauliflower because of my impossible weakness for the underdog in every situation. It seems cauliflower doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, and if there’s anyone who will side with the losing team, its me. Cauliflower is making a slow come-back these days, as it should, because it is extremely versatile and can be incredibly tasty when treated properly. I like to think that I am playing my part by making this warm toasty curry. This dish is packed with flavor, spice and color, and it’s just the thing to chase away the blues that can come with too many rainy days.

Ingredients

2 medium yellow zucchinis
1/2 head cauliflower
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
2/3 cup pure carrot juice (about 2 large carrots steamed and juiced)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ginger
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In a medium size pot, simmer together the tomatoes, carrot juice, and half of the minced garlic on low heat. Stir in one tsp of curry powder along with the cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, coriander and ginger. Dice the zucchini and divide the cauliflower into small florets. (I used blended cauliflower that I had on hand from my cauliflower pizza crust, which also worked fine). Heat olive oil over a stove top and saute the zucchini for about 10 minutes or until browned. Remove from oil and add to the pot with the tomato curry sauce. While oil is still hot, add the onion. Saute for about two minutes, then add the cauliflower to the pan and saute for about 8 minutes. Lightly salt, then add the garlic and saute together for a few more minutes until brown. Add to the tomato curry. Stir everything together and add the second teaspoon of curry powder, the rest of the salt, and the chopped kale. Simmer on low until kale has wilted. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Serves 4
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Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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This morning I was thinking about the home that I live in and all the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the production of this house and all the things I own.  There are walls and paint and furniture and appliances and clothes and books and lamps….and each of these things is composed of so many different materials from so many different places and factories.  In my ideal world, I would love to be able to answer the who, what, where, when and how of it all.  I would love to know all the workers who gave me what I have and know that they were treated justly and know their stories.  In today’s world, that is pretty much impossible.  All the same, I think these issues are particularly pertinent in regards to what we put into our bodies.  The who/how/what/where/when behind our own nourishment seems like something we should not have to work too hard to understand.

As a country, we’ve gotten so far past that point that it seems like people are really trying to swing the pendulum back to some semblance of normalcy.  There is more awareness about farmer’s markets and local organic farming.  There are more and more CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs springing up, and it seems people are becoming more aware of how food and health are intrinsically connected.  (Thank you Captain Obvious.) 

It is more time-consuming to live this way, but I would argue that it is entirely worth the time and energy.  Quality takes time, but the rewards far outweigh the costs.  This is a topic I could talk about for hours and days without growing weary of it…and if you happen to be a family member of mine, you know I can become annoyingly didactic on all matters food-related.  “Marie all I want is to enjoy my slice of pizza without you going all Sermon on the Mount on me!!”  Poor family.

So instead of bewailing the evils of processed foods (and its not like I’m a total food purist myself), I’ve been trying to focus on the joy of cooking instead.  Because it is a joy.  It’s a conversation with myself actually, in which I hear a whisper “Meet me in the kitchen.”  And then, “Try  a spicy stew of purple cabbage and hot sausage and sweet potatoes today…you’ll be surprised!”  And I mix and stir and inhale scents and flavors and I am surprised.

As I was by this delicious pizza.

Ingredients:

Crust

1 head cauliflower
1/3 cup goat cheese (If you don’t like the taste of goat cheese, you can use a cup of mozzarella instead)
1 free range egg
1 Tbsp dried oregano

Toppings:

Whatever you like!!

I used: homemade tomato sauce, spinach, eggplant, green pepper, onion, zucchini, and parmesan cheese.  I sauteed all the vegetables in olive oil except for the spinach. Afterwards, I threw on some leftover grilled chicken and it was a dreamboat of a meal.

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Preheat oven to 400° Place cauliflower florets in a food processor and pulse until it becomes grainy. Steam until the cauliflower is soft, and drain thoroughly using a dishcloth. (Or just microwave it for about 8 minutes). Let it cool a little, and while it’s still warm, stir in the egg, goat cheese and oregano. Place a sheet of parchment paper over a pizza pan, and spread the crust over it. Bake it for 40 minutes. Remove and coat with your toppings of choice, and then broil in the oven for 5 minutes. Enjoy!!

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Winter Ratatouille

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I say winter ratatouille because of one key distinction between this dish and the alternative I might make in the summer.  I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, and because of this, I also altered the technique for the layering of the vegetables.  If you know me well, you know that I love and respect tomatoes too much to disgrace their good name by buying a fresh tomato in the winter.  The winter offers tasteless mealy pale imitations that come from God knows where.  Don’t do it.

I began with Julia’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking simply because she throws each group of vegetables over some hot olive oil and sautes them slightly before putting them together in the stew, thereby calling forth the separate flavors of each before they are combined together.  I like that, and it certainly worked for me here. After that, I kind of did my own thing, not because I think I can do it better than Julia, but because my amateur self is still bad at following directions.

Disclaimer: I did not use parsley.  Can you call it ratatouille without the parsley? I’m not sure.  I didn’t have any, but to be fair I did use lots and lots of thyme in its place, and in my book you can never go wrong with thyme.  In fact, it might taste even better this way. I’ll try to remember to do a taste comparison at some point.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
2 large zucchinis
1 orange bell pepper (any bell pepper works; I chose orange for aesthetic purposes)
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 head garlic (you can douse it with olive oil, slice off the rough end of the head, and stick it in the oven at 400° for 10 minutes and then the cloves will slip right out of their casings)
7 tbsp olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 handful fresh thyme
1 tbsp salt

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(^^Hannah helped slice even with her Hulk arm. What a trooper.^^)

Preheat oven to 350.° Slice the vegetables into thin circles and separate them. Toss them with a light sprinkling of salt, basil and oregano. Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on a stovetop. Taking one bowl at a time, lay the vegetables over the hot oil and brown them slightly on both sides. Add more oil to the pan as needed, and heat before sauteing. Use a deep baking dish (its actually a casserole dish but I hate the word “casserole”) and layer the vegetables into it, starting with the eggplant, the zucchini, the tomatoes, the peppers and then the onions. After the first layer, top with whole roasted garlic cloves. Slice them once or twice if they are very large. Remove the thyme leaves from half of the sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the top. Repeat the entire process. Cover the dish and set in the oven for 40 minutes. Enjoy!
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(^^Before it’s been cooked^^)
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(^^Also good over salad^^)

Strawberry Bean Quesadillas

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Yesterday I stopped in at Scotti’s record store where I had not been in ages.  My sister Celine wanted to buy a gift there for a friend.  Coincidentally, I had just finished listening to the All Songs Considered podcast about favorite albums during college.  All day I’d been trying to figure out which artist or song or album had the single greatest impact on me in my college years.  I couldn’t nail it down.  That’s really hard.  I’d love to say that I nursed an obsession with a single band, but there was such a conglomerate of groups that I went to for all different reasons…some to serenade me while I studied, some to blast in the car, some to be my personal soundtrack when I felt invincible, and some to serve as the backdrop when I was feeling low and needed to stew in my own funk juices for awhile.

Recently a friend asked me what music I listen to while I cook.  Also tricky.  If I am preparing something grandiose and need to channel my inner Jacques Cousteau, I will usually have either opera, Charles Aznavour or Edith Piaf playing.  If I am cooking as a means of self-therapy, it could be anything from Paul Simon to the Avett Brothers or Arcade Fire or Jeff Buckley or The Staves or Brand New or Cat Stevens or Talking Heads or Sigur Ros or Fall Out Boy or xxx or or or…..it all depends.  If I am surrounded by my family, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong will always do the trick.

In any case. my trip to Scotti’s and subsequent purchase (just could not refrain) reminded me of all the times when I’d just brought home a new album or mix and couldn’t wait to get in the car and drive with it and use up half my gas tank just to let the music elevate me and remind me what a good thing it can be to be alive, as myself, in this world.  And then I’d look forward to listening to it again and again and again until every lyric was engrained and every octave switch was anticipated in my bones.

Also, as I drove with my new purchase last night, I remembered that caution is required  to avoid potholes and too-bumpy roads so as not to scratch the disk.  I happened to choose particularly bad roads, but with fingers crossed, we made it out unscathed.  That is one of the downsides about having a cd as opposed to simply downloading new music, but there is just something so much more exciting about holding a new album in your hands and sticking it in the player.  Anyways….

Yesterday I made this refreshing dish while Shakira sang.  Not the new, commercialized Shakira, but the very young old school artist with the awesome lyrics and carefree attitude that exuded from her first album: Pies Descalsos.

I have to say that, delicious as these quesadillas may be, they still fit more into a summer food category than a winter one.  All the same, they are super refreshing and enjoyable any day of the year.

Ingredients

(Inspired by Sprouted Kitchen)

8 corn tortillas
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 avocado
1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro
8 strawberries
2/3 cup black beans, cooked and blended
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup goat cheese
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Stir together the beans and yogurt. Spread over a tortilla and then layer the spinach, slivers of avocado, two sliced strawberries, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over it, and then give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Top with a smattering of crumbled goat cheese and a second tortilla, and heat on a pan over the stovetop on high heat until the outer side of the tortilla is slightly browned. Flip and repeat. Slice into quarters and serve warm. Enjoy!

These make 4 quesadillas, but the recipe can be easily multiplied.
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Red Lentil Soup

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To all those practicing Catholics out there, welcome to lent.  To everyone else, today is the annual “Find People With Black Spots On Their Foreheads Day.”  Happy hunting!

While I am not of the opinion that lentils should be reserved for the lenten period, I do believe that lent is a great excuse to make absolutely delicious heartwarming bowls of steaming goodness. When my iron levels dropped dangerously low in Lebanon, my adopted Lebanese family made sure I ate lots and lots of lentils. It wasn’t hard to do, because Lebanon is a genius in the lentil department, and I was soon introduced to many different dishes. Lentils have lots of iron as well as high levels of fiber, folate, and magnesium. They also contain potassium and calcium and are generally great all around.  This red lentil soup is so comforting and tasty that you should try it even if you aren’t a big fan of the more traditional hearty lentil soups.

Ingredients

2 cups red lentils
6 1/2 cups water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt (or more if you prefer)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper

*The measurements for the spices are not very exact. I added a lot of cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. You can adjust according to your taste.
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Pour the olive oil into a pot and add the onion. Stir over medium heat until the onion is almost translucent. Mince the garlic cloves and add them along with the spices. Add the water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about half an hour. Use an immersion blender to bring the pot to a smooth, creamy texture. Serve hot.

Serves 4 generously

Thai Style Cabbage Salad

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Sometimes serendipity, just like creativity, is born out of confinement.  Such was the case of my lucky dessert yesterday.  I was craving a good creamy bowl of yogurt, but was out.  I thought about making some but didn’t want to wait 8 hours and then remembered I’d need a little yogurt to start with in order to make more anyway. Lately I’ve been finding it hard to come across plain full fat yogurt at your average supermarket.  There are either flavored ones or plain ones with 0% fat, which to me taste too bitter.  I perused the refrigerator and came across some nice whole ricotta.  I decided to combine a small portion with some Dutch cocoa, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey.  Boom!  It was so creamy and perfect. Often when I experiment like that, I end up shrugging my shoulders and giving myself an A for effort while quickly tossing the creation in the garbage, but yesterday was lucky and the dessert satisfied my craving.

The eponymous salad of today’s post was also fortuitous to a similar degree.  I had a large bag of carrots on hand and had been wanting to try a Thai-inspired dish.  What I was really thinking about was this beautiful meal of duck with peanut sauce that I ate at a Thai restaurant once, but I definitely did not have a duck sitting in the kitchen.  This salad had to suffice and it did so wonderfully.  It was so refreshing and tasty and nutrient-packed.  I could eat bowls of it.

Thai Style Cabbage Salad with Peanut-Carrot Spread and Beets

Ingredients

6 large carrots, peeled
1 head green cabbage
4 beets, boiled and sliced
2 limes
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 knob of ginger (about 2 inches long)
2 tbsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp turmeric
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Blend the carrots in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Chop the ginger and add it. Squeeze in the juice of two limes and add the peanuts, vinegar and hot sauce.  Blend till everything is combined.
Cut the cabbage until shredded. Lay the sliced beets on the cabbage and give the salad a good dollup of the carrot spread. Sprinkle with turmeric. Enjoy!

Serves 6

The carrot spread is great to make by itself and use as a dip for other vegetables.
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Lentil Patties with Sesame Seared Eggplant and Cauliflower Pesto

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This hearty meal with a glorious nutritional profile is best reserved for a day when you have a voracious appetite.  There is something about those days.  It’s the feeling of hunger, the tantalizing smells wafting from the oven, the ticking of the clock as everything is preparing itself for your plate…and finally the moment when you can sit down and eat till you are satiated and content.  Hmm…sounds familiar.  I will be heading to the kitchen right now!

Ingredients

*If you wish to make this a vegan recipe, simply use the substitutes I posted and omit the parmesan cheese.  You will probably need to add some salt if you leave out the cheese.

Sesame Seared Eggplant

1 large eggplant, sliced
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 eggs/egg subsitutes
2 tbsp butter/coconut oil

Preheat oven to 425°  Combine parmesan cheese and sesame seeds in a small bowl.  Whisk eggs together in a separate bowl.  Melt butter in frying pan.  Submerge eggplant slices in egg and then in sesame parmesan mixture.  Fry on both sides until seeds are crusted onto the eggplant.  Lay the slices on a cooking tray and roast for 10 minutes.

Cauliflower Pesto

1 head cauliflower
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 large handful thyme sprigs
1 cup whole milk/ almond milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425° Cut the cauliflower, rub with olive oil, and lay on a cooking tray to roast in the oven for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to food processor.  Add the thyme, garlic, milk and cheese.  Blend until smooth.

Lentil Patties

1 cup lentils
1 cup brown rice
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp butter/ coconut oil
2 eggs/ egg substitutes

Cook the lentils and rice together with the broth in a pot on low for about an hour or until the moisture has absorbed.  Add the eggs and stir until everything has thickened.  Form into patties and brown with butter in a frying pan on both sides.

Place each patty on a slice of sesame seared eggplant and top with cauliflower pesto and some spinach leaves if desired. Top with a second slice of eggplant.  The roasted cauliflower pesto also makes a delicious dip or sandwich spread.  Just be sure not to leave out the thyme because in my opinion, it’s the key to the whole dish. Enjoy!

Serves 6 generously

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Quinoa Pilaf

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A note about the presentation of food: Prior to starting this blog, I didn’t give all too much thought to the aesthetic appeal of my plate unless I was dining with company. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that good quality takes a bit of mindfulness. I remember being on vacation with my family a few years ago in New Hampshire. It was probably one of the last years where all twelve children were present. My dad came up with the idea of doing a cook-off every night. The kids were divided into two teams, and for about 4 nights we had to cook dinner for everyone. We could prepare anything we liked as long as both teams used the same elements for the main dish, the starch, and the vegetable (a true American dinner plate balancing act). The judges were my parents, my uncle, and my grandmother. We were graded on taste, creativity and presentation. We learned a lot about the importance of all three aspects, as we lost points if our delicious dinners looked like sludge or lacked color, or if our beautifully presented plates were subpar on the taste buds…or if we always opted for familiarity instead of exploring outside the boundaries of our culinary comfort zones. It was a memorable, fun and educational experience. Although in my case, I distinctly remember my younger brother taking over our whole team and barely trusting me to so much as crack an egg. Oh well.

In any case, a little touch, be it as simple as the addition of a placemat, goes a long way. Food offers itself as one of the chief pleasures of life if it is treated as such. Or so I am learning. The ritual of mealtime is utterly ordinary, and yet it is the very thing that brings friends and family together and often becomes the medium that binds us to each other. Of course Mary Fisher (who I realize is rapidly becoming the muse here) has something to say on this: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and the richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and then it is all one” (excerpt from the Forward to The Gastronomical Me).   If, in the busyness of our days, we can be a bit more mindful of all the invisible yet sacred things taking place in the tedium of the ordinary, and honor them, our lives will be all the better for it.

I meant to write about quinoa but got off-topic.

Quinoa Pilaf

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 medium onion
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp thyme

Pour the water into a medium size pot and add the quinoa. Cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, and then add the diced tomatoes, undrained. Stir in the oregano and thyme. Let everything simmer for about 10 minutes. Chop the peppers and onions and saute using the olive oil. When they are just beginning to brown, add the garlic and salt. Stir for 5 minutes, then add everything to the pot of quinoa. Let it simmer on low for around 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is soft and most of the moisture is absorbed. Enjoy!
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