Sweet Potato Quinoa Casserole

Tex-Mex is hands down the cuisine that John and I miss the most since moving to Sydney. We love the spectrum of spicy peppers to refreshing, crisp veggies. On the less healthy side, we love the cheese drenched, tender meat in corn or flour tortillas; we also can’t get enough of the rainbow of peppers, onions, cilantro, and avocado. I didn’t realize it until we left, but we probably ate frozen Trader Joe’s Chicken Tamalitos once week, and loaded nachos were in heavy rotation as well. His parents would send us several jars of El Fenix salsa for almost every occasion – best gift ever, but of course the handmade flour tortillas topped the list for presents from Texas.

We are still trying to find a good Mexican restaurant in Sydney, and I don’t want to spend the time or money trying to source those flavors we crave. My heart hurts when I go to the ethnic aisle and see three bags of tortilla chips and one variety of salsa for twice the price we are used to paying (to be fair, most things are twice the price we are used to). This sweet potato quinoa casserole by Eating Bird Food eases our cravings a bit and provides a good amount of leftovers for lunches. It is very versatile and I add or substitute ingredients based on my pantry at the moment.

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This was actually one of the first new recipes I attempted in Australia and the initial trial ended in a complete failure for multiple reasons, none of which were recipe related. The biggest problem was cooking an ethnic-inspired dish while in a country that is literally the farthest place in the world from the cuisine in question. I had problems finding the ingredients, and then when I did they were so much more expensive than in the States ($2.30 for a can of black beans, really?). Spending so much money on the ingredients added the pressure of having dinner taste better than if we had just eaten out for the same price. Onto the preparation: I cut the sweet potato into large pieces instead of the dice recommended; however, the knife in the rental was impossibly dull and I hacked at that sweet potato for a long time as it was. There was also the issue of the stove labels being completely wore off so I had no idea where to put dial for temperature or setting (there is no “On” switch, you have to choose a setting). I ended up choosing the middle of both dials for no reason other than 350 F seemed middle of the road. It also could have been dehydrator because that casserole baked a solid 2 1/2 hours, but still was underdone. We finally gave up on having tender cooked sweet potatoes and just gnawed on the partially raw chunks. All in all, it was cheesy and a bit burnt on the top with raw vegetables that I spent the better part of an hour trying to cut up. I was very dissapointed with the results, but also knew that the flavors were all there. The preparation and cooking were the only things that held me back.

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I have since made this casserole several times successfully. It does require a bit of prep time to cook the quinoa and chop vegetables, although now I have my knives and cutting a sweet potato is no longer such an arduous task. Salsa prices make me cry so I usually substitute a can of tomatoes and a tablespoon of chopped jarred jalapeños. I also use regular chili powder and salt instead of the packets she suggests; I don’t think McCormick’s exists in Australia. Overall, I find the casserole to be very versatile and filling. It definitely earned its place as one of my key meals for the fall and winter.

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