One of the things I know vegetarians hear often is, “Are you sure you’re getting enough protein?” We all know that meat is packed with protein, and it is fairly easy to fill our diets with enough protein to keep our bodies going throughout the day. But what about people who don’t eat meat? The wonderful thing about our Earth is that it produces a wide array of fabulous foods that work together to help us get all the nutrition we need. So when OXO sent me a box of tools and challenged me to come up with a very vegetarian dish, I was excited to put together a meal that would provide plenty of nutrition, flavor, and yes, protein.
A complete protein is a food that contains sufficient values of all 9 essential amino acids. Meat and poultry contain enough of these amino acids to count as a complete protein on their own. Certain beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dairy in combination with each other provide sufficient levels of all 9 essential amino acids to give vegetarian dishes a protein punch equal to that of eating an all-steak diet. Although tasty, an all-steak diet would not be sufficient nutrition. So don’t try that at home!
Okay, so let’s get science-y. Here are the general combinations of foods that work together to make a complete protein. These are called complementary proteins, by the way.
Dairy + Whole Grains
Dairy + Nuts/Seeds
Dairy + Legumes
Whole Grains + Legumes
Whole Grains + Nuts/Seeds
Legumes + Nuts/Seeds
This dish contains nuts and dairy, which work together to form a complete protein. The quinoa in this dish provides tons of nutrition, including protein. It’s no wonder quinoa has become such a trendy food item. It has so much nutritional value and is very versatile. If you don’t love quinoa, however, just replace it with wheat berries, barley, farro, wild rice, or whole wheat pasta to maintain the protein content of this dish.
Lemony Herbed Quinoa with Sautéed Vegetables serves 2
This dish is hearty and versatile. Use any tangy cheese you prefer, and swap out the quinoa for any whole grain you love such as wheat berries, wild rice or whole wheat pasta. Serve warm just after cooking, or let cool, mix everything together and serve it as a big, cold salad the next day, maybe with some baby spinach added.
1/2 cup quinoa (I used tri-color, but you can use any variety)
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 sprig rosemary, finely chopped, about 1/4 teaspoon
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sliced button mushrooms, about 4-6
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 small zucchini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled goat or feta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste, optional
1. In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa, vegetable broth, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 10 – 15 minutes.
2. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add the chopped walnuts and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Add the mushrooms the to skillet in one layer. Sauté for 2 minutes, use tongs to flip them over, and cook an additional 2 minutes.
4. While the mushrooms are cooking, use a mandoline to thinly slice the zucchini and carrots. Add 2 teaspoons of oil or butter, the garlic, zucchini and carrots to the mushrooms, and sauté until the vegetables are fork tender, but still crisp, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, goat cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir into the cooked quinoa.
Note: Using a mandoline slicer will help you make even, precise sliced of the carrots and zucchini. Always use the hand guard to ensure safety!