The way to jazz up a healthy meal of chickpeas and quinoa is as easy as a roasted red pepper and the magic of warming Za’atar spice blend
Chickpeas and quinoa are our dynamic duo of dinner detail. What could be simpler? Open a can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Grab a bag of quinoa, measure, rinse, toss in the pot with twice the liquid, and hello, there's dinner.
Simple enough, but food should be more than sustenance. It needs to be tasty and interesting.
Dinner might begin with the powerful protein-nutrient punch of chickpeas and quinoa, but that, my friend should never be the end of the story. Because, even though we’re all guilty of stealing a few cooked chickpeas out of the colander, (ok, maybe more than a few) we deserve more flavor than that. And by all means, let’s eat sitting down, not standing at the counter counting our chickpeas.
One wonderful thing about the combination of ingredients like this is that with just a few twists, you can take them where you want to go. You can make a quinoa chickpea pilaf one day and then next a completely different Middle Eastern experience.
Your ticket to ride? Spice blends.
Talking spice blends
My early experience of prepared spice blends was limited to chili powder and curry powder, with the latter limited to my mom’s potato salad. Maybe I remember a dried herb blend called ‘Italian’. I never saw (or tasted) anything as exotic as Berbere, garam masala, Baharat, or Za’atar, either in our house or in the stores.
But I’ve learned that the answer to even the direst of culinary creativity deserts might be right inside your spice cabinet. If you’re a spice blend explorer, like me, chances are you have a stock of several kinds already. If so, you have probably realized that one curry powder is not like another, one garam masala has whole coriander seeds, another one has ground, and so on. Different blends, different recipes, same names.
Just like recipes, everyone has their own twist on the exchange. For example, I have one Za’atar I like with Middle Eastern Chickpea salad and I have a slightly modified blend I use with chickpeas and quinoa as well as a few other recipes. This one includes a few of the standards: toasted sesame seeds, cumin, and sumac, but I added red chili flakes and thyme. If you have your own blend or you happen to buy one, use it.
How to time this recipe
When you make this dish, the first thing to address is the roasted red pepper. I never buy roasted peppers anymore because I don’t want the added oil and it’s just to cheap and easy to do it myself. My only roasting advice it to use parchment paper or a baking mat. Peppers are notoriously messy when you roast them.
Should you take the skin off the roasted pepper?
That’s up to you. If you dice the cooled pepper with the skin, the flavor will be smokier, but some folks prefer only the flesh. In that case, just peel them completely before you dice them up and cool them.
Roasting the pepper will take about 15 minutes depending on your oven temperature. While that’s happening, you can gather all the rest of your ingredients.
I usually grab a heavy pan for a dish like this because I am making my own Za’atar and I want to start out by toasting the sesame seeds. Because I am dish-washing averse, I aim to use the same pan to make the entire dish. After toasting the seeds, just transfer them to a small bowl and mix in the rest of the Za’atar spices.
Once you’re prepped, it’s just a matter of adding the garlic and Za’atar to the heated pan and then adding the chickpeas. Give the chickpeas a few minutes to brown and mix with the garlic and spices. Then add the diced roasted pepper, tomato paste, and smoked paprika. Be sure not to get the heat too high or things will start sticking. If that happens at any time, you can add a few tablespoons of water to cool it down.
Be sure you rinse your quinoa before adding it. I know there’s a good load of spices in this dish, but let’s make it as tasty as possible by making sure our quinoa is not bitter. And bitterness is why we rinse it. Such a simple step and so often overlooked.
With all the spices going on in this dish, I only used water and 2 bay leaves to simmer the quinoa. You may opt to use vegetable broth and, in that case, there may be enough herbs with that to eliminate the bay leaves.
Once you add the quinoa and bring the pot to a simmer, you are just 15 minutes away from dinner time. It will happen, it will happen quickest if you cover the pot, but you can leave it open if you want the quinoa to be a bit fluffier.
I never found plant-based eating limiting. Quite the opposite, I found the opportunities for creativity almost overwhelming. I started exploring different flavors and combinations I’d never considered. Seriously sesame seeds and sumac? Not me. But now that I’ve found you Za’atar, you’ll be kept in stock too because variety is indeed the spice of life and we should be enjoying that at every meal. Peace.Print
Middle Eastern chickpeas and quinoa with Za’atar spice blend
A deliciously healthy, plant-based, gluten-free meal of chickpeas and quinoa is as easy as a roasted red pepper and the magic of warming Za’atar spice blend.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 6 big bowls 1x
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
- Diet: Vegan
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. Za’atar spice blend (see ingredients below)
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 -15 oz. cans) rinsed and drained
- 1 red bell pepper, roasted and diced
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 4 cups of water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
- Fresh chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
Za’atar spice blend
- 1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. sumac
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- ½ tsp. chili flakes
- To roast the pepper, preheat the oven to 4250F (2200C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Rinse and cut the pepper into quarters, cleaning out the stem and seeds from the pepper. Place it on the baking sheet, skin-side up, and roast it in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the skin starts to brown and char.
- Meanwhile, grab a heavy bottom pot and heat it to medium. Add 1 tsp. sesame seeds and stirring them constantly, toast them for 1-2 minutes. Immediately remove them from the heat and add them to a small bowl. Set the pot aside because we’ll use it for the rest of the recipe.
- In the small bowl with the sesame seeds, mix in the rest of the Za’atar ingredients – 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. sumac, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. dried thyme, and ½ tsp. chili flakes.
- Once the pepper has roasted, remove it from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handle, dice it.
- Be sure at this point you have all the rest of the ingredients ready and heat your pot over medium.
- Add the garlic and 1 Tbsp. of the Za’atar. Stir constantly for 30 seconds, being careful that the garlic doesn’t scorch.
- Next, add the chickpeas and sauté them for 3 minutes to allow them to brown a bit.
- Add the diced pepper, 2 Tbsp. tomato paste, and 1 tbsp. smoked paprika. Mix everything well.
- Add 4 cups of water, 2 bay leaves, and then the rinsed quinoa. Bring the pot to a simmer. Cover and let the quinoa cook for 15 minutes until it is tender and most of the water is absorbed.
- Taste before you serve if you want to add extra chili flakes or salt.
- Garnish with chopped parsley if desired.
- The total time for this recipe assumes you are roasting your own red pepper and are prepping everything else while it roasts.
- If you are making Za’atar spice blend and can’t find sumac, substitute 1 tsp. of lemon zest in the mix.
- Store any leftover homemade Za’atar in a labeled, tightly sealed jar or sealed bag.
- To reheat, on the stovetop, add ½ cup of water so the quinoa doesn’t stick to the bottom. It also heats well in the microwave.
Keywords: Middle Eastern chickpeas and quinoa with Za'atar spice blend