Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Baked Quinoa Took Me From Unhealthy Vegetarian to Accidental Vegan

by 
Molly Lipson
May 12, 2022

When I was sixteen, I decided to stop eating meat. I had begun to dislike the thought of it, and though I’d been a big meat-eater up till then, I found it relatively easy to let it go. The hard part was that I also didn’t like vegetables. As a fresh vegetarian, this presented quite a significant problem. Not only was I struggling to find things to eat, I was also becoming rather unhealthy.

 I described my diet at that time as “yellow veggie”. All my meals contained yellow and white foods that were simple and quick to prepare like potatoes, rice, bread, pasta and French fries. I had very little protein and my only vitamin intake came from some peas and beans my mom forced me to eat once a week. The effect was quite clear: I was often tired, grumpy and lethargic.

 When I moved away from home for university, my whole family was worried about how I would stay healthy. In all honesty, so was I. It didn’t help that I severely disliked cooking. I found it a boring chore, especially given the limited ingredients and recipes in my repertoire. So, I devised an ingenious plan: To avoid having to cook regularly, every Sunday afternoon I would grit my teeth and make a huge pasta bake to last me the week. It consisted of three ingredients: pasta, pre-made tomato sauce and lots and lots of cheese. After baking, I would spoon it out into five Tupperwares – a lunch for every day of the week.

 One day after a lecture from my mum about my lack of dietary variety, I decided to add some vegetables into the dish. I thought it would be a good way to get some vitamins without having to really taste them. I chose an array I thought would provide me with the most nutrients possible, selecting broccoli, pepper, kale, spinach and zucchini. I was right – I barely noticed them lurking underneath so much sauce and cheese. If anything, they added a nice crunch. 

No items found.

I kept up this pasta bake routine for two years before moving to Spain to study abroad, at which point I picked up new but equally unhealthy eating habits. My daily meal was…gnocchi with tomato sauce and…lots of cheese. On reflection, not that different, nor particularly culturally appropriate. It was at the end of this year that I was unfortunately diagnosed as lactose intolerant. Whilst frustrating to have to cut out this crucial ingredient, it was hardly a surprise to find out that the reason I had felt so unwell all year was due once more to my dietary choices.

After this shock diagnosis, I was forced into accidental veganism, which made me re-evaluate my avoidance of vegetables as food in their own right; without them, I had very little to eat. Doubly unfortunate, around the same time I also realized I was intolerant to alliums. That means no onions, garlic, chives or leek in my food. Or, as my sister likes to refer to it, no flavor.

 Luckily, as I matured, so did my palette. I opened up my tastebuds to a world of vegetables, sauces and dishes that I had so forcefully avoided in the past. I started eating avocados and nut butters, whole grains, and tofu. My most surprising 180 turn was on mushrooms. How I had ever disliked them, refused to even touch them, in fact, is now one of my greatest personal mysteries. I also tightened up my eating habits more generally, cooking more balanced meals and eating less of the food that made me feel unwell. I was healthier and happier and had no regrets.

Except…the pasta bake. I missed it so much. I had such a deep craving for it that I decided to come up with a revived recipe – a vegan, healthier version that still satisfies the nostalgia without making me feel like a potato for the rest of the day.

Although I do sometimes still use pasta in the bake (I recommend buckwheat), I often swap it out for quinoa, rice or couscous. I also mix in different sauces depending on my mood. Sometimes it’s tomatoey, sometimes pesto-y, sometimes both. Not only is this dish quick and easy to make, its flexibility lends itself to all tastes and occasions and is a treat even to  my non-vegan friends.

Baked Quinoa With Vegetables

 | 
 | 

Ingredients

1 small onion, diced

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 tsps garlic powder

1 jar of passata or 1 can of tomato sauce

Vegetable or mushroom stock, or water

Salt & black pepper to taste

1 5-8 oz package of fresh baby spinach or kale

1 small head of broccoli, trimmed, cut into bite-sized florets

1 small bell pepper, any color, cored and thinly sliced

1 small zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into bite-sized matchsticks

1 cup of quartered cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 cups of uncooked quinoa

1 cup of grated vegan cheese (optional)

 | 
 | 

Ingredients

1 small onion, diced

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 tsps garlic powder

1 jar of passata or 1 can of tomato sauce

Vegetable or mushroom stock, or water

Salt & black pepper to taste

1 5-8 oz package of fresh baby spinach or kale

1 small head of broccoli, trimmed, cut into bite-sized florets

1 small bell pepper, any color, cored and thinly sliced

1 small zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into bite-sized matchsticks

1 cup of quartered cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 cups of uncooked quinoa

1 cup of grated vegan cheese (optional)

Ingredients

1 small onion, diced

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 tsps garlic powder

1 jar of passata or 1 can of tomato sauce

Vegetable or mushroom stock, or water

Salt & black pepper to taste

1 5-8 oz package of fresh baby spinach or kale

1 small head of broccoli, trimmed, cut into bite-sized florets

1 small bell pepper, any color, cored and thinly sliced

1 small zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into bite-sized matchsticks

1 cup of quartered cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 cups of uncooked quinoa

1 cup of grated vegan cheese (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. In a large skillet, saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent and beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes. Add in garlic powder and stir.

3. Add enough vegetable stock or water to the tomato sauce to bring the total volume of liquid to 3.5 cups. Pour the tomato and broth mixture into the skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer and taste for seasoning - add salt & pepper as desired. Reduce heat to low.

4. Put the vegetables, slivered basil, and quinoa in a baking dish, and toss to combine.

5. When the baking dish is ready, add the spinach to the simmering broth and cook until the leaves are just wilted, 30-60 seconds. Remove from heat and carefully pour the tomato broth and spinach over the vegetable-quinoa mixture. Stir gently just to incorporate and to ensure there are no air bubbles.

6. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes.

7. Remove foil and continue baking until all of the liquid is gone and the quinoa and vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes more. Top with cheese for the last 5-10 minutes of baking. Serve immediately.

About the Author

Molly Lipson

Browse Additional Recipes

Lunch Hack: A Truly Quick Tortilla Espanola

by 
Fifth Season
Read More

I Screwed up my Strawberry Patch, but the Silver Lining Is This Spinach Strawberry Salad

by 
Julie Laing
Read More

What To Do If You Binged “Emily in Paris” and You’re Now Binging Leeks

by 
Daniela Savone
Read More