Continuing with the theme of using less meat and saving some money, the Hamm family had a Chicken and Broccoli Bake at the weekend. Not terribly original? Well, that may be so, but the real star of this recipe however, is the crumb topping. It’s toasted quinoa. I know that makes me sound like a bit of a knob — it’s the kind of thing they’d talk about on Masterchef Australia (I’ve made a be-oootiful fennel parfait with a be-oootiful beetroot reduction, a king fish caramel and a toasted quinoa crumb. Ugh.) — but please try not to judge me too harshly.
I reckoned if I could make this work, I’d kill two birds with one stone: increase the amount of protein in the dish, and create a toasty crunchy topping without using processed sliced pan. I used only one chicken breast so I was conscious of the amount of protein in the meal, and this seemed like the perfect solution. Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids needed by the body. Now, didn’t think I could get so scientific, did you?
So while nobody was looking I decided to give it a go. I mean, if nobody is there to witness a failure, is it real? I don’t think so. I cooked half a cup of quinoa as per the instructions (usually 3 parts cold water to 1 part quinoa, bring to a boil and simmer until all the water is absorbed – but check your packet to be sure), making sure that the water was well and truly absorbed. Next I spread it out on a baking tray and placed it in a hot oven (220°C). I can’t tell you how long it was in there but I did take it out every five minutes or so and rake it around with a fork. Very zen garden. I would say it took about 30 minutes for it all to become toasty brown and crunchy. When I tried it, it reminded me of Rice Krispies, and I instantly thought about smothering it in chocolate and making little buns. I still might.
But back to the bake. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made enough quinoa to coat the top of it completely, so I did concede to mixing in a tablespoon of dried breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of mature cheddar cheese, finely grated. I think using a strong-tasting cheese like mature cheddar means you can get away with using less of it.
I will say this — the parts of the quinoa that weren’t quite toasted were a bit on the chewy side, so make sure you spread it out thin and regularly mix it well to ensure even crunch.
Just a note on the use of tinned soup: normally I’d be wary of using this in a meal for Baba because of the high salt content. In this instance, I used half the tin of soup and added the same amount of full fat milk. Given that Baba would only be having a spoonful of the complete dish I reckoned that would be ok.
The recipe below may seem very scant, but there’s nothing too technical in there apart from, perhaps, the quinoa crumb, which is described above. The total cost of the meal was approximately €3.56, and we got 4 adult portions and 2 toddler portions from it, which is pretty good value for money I think. For vegetarians, you could substitute the chicken for beans or chickpeas, or just leave it out and double up on the quinoa. The broccoli is a good source of iron too.
Cook the quinoa as per the instructions on the pack. Spread on a baking tray and place in a hot oven (220°C) for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to mix well every 5 minutes or so. Leave to cool slightly and then mix with the breadcrumbs and the cheese.
Cut up the chicken and fry gently in a small amount of oil.
Chop broccoli, carrot and onion (I used the food processor to chop it up very finely), add to the chicken and mix well.
Add the garlic and thyme, the soup and the milk and leave to simmer until the vegetables are soft. Add more milk (or some low-salt stock) if required.
Transfer the filling to an oven-proof dish and scatter the quinoa crumb over the top. Bake in a medium oven until everything is piping hot.
Serve with mashed potato for a hearty wholesome meal.