Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole

Winter is back, my friends! After the majority of the snow melted during a “warm” spell, the white stuff has returned and just keeps falling. I’ve been hearing avalanche bombing at the resorts and snow-blowers in my neighbors’ driveways. It’s the perfect day to keep pouring hot-ish coffee, get the fireplace going, pad around in my slippers, and point out the fat, fluttering snowflakes to Oden. When I say “snow,” he raises his hands to the sky and looks out the window!

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Winter weather = comfort food! Heartier plates, warming soups, and casseroles. Who doesn’t love a good casserole, with delicious ingredients baked to perfection and often topped with a layer of cheese? With Old Man Winter’s frosty breath swirling outside, I pulled out my old recipe binders, flipped to the “casserole” section, and made an oldie but goodie. Bonus: besides being scrumptious, this Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole is healthy!

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I had a window of time during Oden’s nap to get started on dinner earlier in the day. First, I seasoned a couple of chicken breasts with cumin and garlic salt and grilled them on our indoor grill, mostly because I love that char flavor. You could also poach a couple of chicken breasts or even use a store-bought rotisserie. Thanks for supervising, Cholula! (Please enjoy our stuff-a-magazine-in-the-handles baby-proofing technique.)

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Next, I chopped lots of veggies. I like this casserole to be chock-full of them to keep it healthy! You could use whatever veggies you like (or whatever you happen to have in the fridge). I went with onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms. I also chopped up a whole jalapeño and a couple of cloves of garlic.

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With Oden still snoozing away, I decided to get cooking! I heated olive oil in a deep skillet and sautéed the onion, pepper, zucchini, and mushroom until they were starting to become tender. I added the jalapeño and garlic as well as some cumin, crushed red pepper, and garlic salt. The chopped chicken went into the pan, too, and I cooked everything for a few more minutes. While the veggies did their thing, I drained and rinsed a can of black beans and added them to a big bowl.

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I removed the skillet from the heat before the veggies had lost their firmness. I love when cooked vegetables still have a crunch, plus these would also be baked in the casserole. With Oden starting to babble in his crib, I added the veggies to the bowl of black beans and set it aside to cool until I was ready to make the casserole. All of the prep and half of the cooking were complete!

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The original recipe for this casserole that I used to make included brown rice, but I decided to use quinoa instead for a different (lighter) texture. You could easily make your own, but I keep a few of these ready-to-use packages of organic quinoa and rice in the pantry to use in a pinch. At dinnertime, I stirred the quinoa into the bowl with the veggies and black beans along with a little handful of shredded cheese. I scooped the whole colorful mess into a casserole dish that I coated with olive oil spray. I love that you can see all of the deliciously healthy ingredients…that is, before I added the topping!

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The dirty little secret to this casserole is that I top it with crunched-up “hint of lime” seasoned tortilla chips! You could use regular corn chips, but I like the flavor these particular chips add. I also sprinkle more cheese on top because it’s a CASSEROLE. Yum! It bakes for 20-30 in the oven until the cheese is melted and the chips get a tad browned on the tips. While it baked, I chopped some fresh tomatoes and cilantro to sprinkle on top for some freshness, heated a few flour tortillas over a burner on the stove, and quartered a lime to serve on the side for squeezing.

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It’s hard to make a casserole plate look pretty; you basically scoop and dump it on your plate! But it was so yummy- full of flavor! The tomatoes, cilantro, and lime brightened everything up and I loved spooning bites into my tortilla to eat it. The crunch from the chips adds a fun texture.

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The best part of a meal like this is that it’s completely comforting but still healthy (thank you, veggies and quinoa!). It’s the best of both worlds! With recipes like this… bring it, winter.

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Casserole

You’ll need:

  • Olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, chopped
  • 6 ounces brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (remove seeds if you don’t like it hot!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (more if you like heat)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lime-seasoned tortilla chips
  • Chopped cherry tomatoes and cilantro for garnish
  • Warmed flour tortillas and lime wedges for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9×13 casserole dish with cooking spray.

Heat a few swirls of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms. Sautee for about 5 minutes before adding the jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Add the cooked chicken. Cook for another couple of minutes until the chicken is warmed through and the veggies are starting to become tender but still have a crunch to them. Mix the chicken and veggie combo in a large bowl with the black beans and quinoa. Taste and adjust seasonings; add salt and pepper as needed. Add most of the cheese and stir to combine. Pour the quinoa mixture into the casserole dish. Add crushed tortilla chips and more cheese over the top.

Bake the casserole for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the chips are starting to get a little bit brown. Serve a big scoop topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and a warm tortilla on the side. Enjoy healthy comfort food in your slippers while the snow falls outside. YUM!

Hungry for more? Check out the pile of recipes on the FOOD BLISS page!

One year ago: My big old baby bump got some LOVE!

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