BOOM, Roasted! Mediterranean Veg w/ Toasted Quinoa & Chicken

My community group recently decided to start doing theme nights for our meals.  I'd been toying around in my mind with making some sort of quinoa salad so I jumped at the chance to get creative when we chose Mediterranean night.  Before I dive into the recipe, allow me to explain the name-- my husband and I love (no, seriously, LOOOOOOVE) The Office.  Sure, seasons 2 & 3 were the best and nothing recent has quite lived up to them.  Still, it's our favorite show.  One of our absolute favorite Office moments includes the lovely gem where Michael gets roasted and then retaliates in the episode called Stress Relief.  I wanted to embed a video for you, but greedy NBC Universal won't allow any (legal) clips of it on the 'net.  Just trust me that it's hilarious, and since I roasted the vegetables, Jason insisted that it be called "Boom Roasted" and I agreed :)

Per the usual, this recipe was meant to feed our large group (12-15 people), so only cook without reducing for fewer people if you want to have leftovers! 

Roasted Veg and Toasted Quinoa

Lemony Mediterranean Chicken

BOOM, Roasted! Mediterranean Veg w/ Toasted Quinoa & Chicken
[Note: Because of the multiple steps, this looks really complicated, but TRUST me- it's super easy and will impress people with its gourmet foodie flavors!]

2 Large Chicken breasts

1 lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 T olive oil
1 T fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Quinoa (toasting instructions adapted from this Gluten Free Girl recipe):
3 cups quinoa, rinsed
3 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
6 cups water or stock (if you use water, then add a pinch or two of sea salt)

1 medium eggplant
3 medium zucchini
1 large red onion
5-6 garlic cloves
2 lemons
2 T fresh lemon thyme, bruised or knife run through
1/4 cup olive oil

Small container Mediterranean herb feta cheese
1 Lemon, zest removed and set aside (combine with zest from above) [***four lemons total]
2 T fresh lemon thyme, bruised or knife run through(I bought a package of fresh lemon thyme from the refrigerated herbs section of the produce area at my local store)

Now, for the cooking!

Night before:
1. Place chicken breasts in shallow glass dish just big enough to fit them into it (too much extra space = marinading the glass, not the chicken).  It's best to use a dish with a lid (I used a Pyrex bowl with a lid) but you can cover with plastic wrap.

2.  Add garlic, pepper, olive oil, and thyme.  Use a Microplane (I LOVE mine!) to grate in the lemon zest.

3.  Then, roll the lemon on a cutting board with the heel of your palm.  This breaks down the inside and gets 'er nice and juicy!  Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze in the juice, removing any seeds. (This is what I use: Amco Enameled Aluminum Lemon Squeezer).

4. Cut the juiced lemon into wedges (it's easiest to cut the halves you just juiced into fourths or sixths, depending on how big of a lemon it was) and add to bowl.

5.  Cover bowl with lid (or plastic wrap), and shake, shake, shake, until the ingredients are mixed throughout.  Place in refrigerator and leave overnight (or at least 8 hours).

6.  To save time, pre-cut the roasted veg!  Cut the onion into slices (for tips on onion cutting, see this previous post), and cut the eggplant and zucchini into 1" cubes. Store the cubes in a tightly sealed container overnight.

[Tip for Eggplant and Zucchini: Here's how I did it- cut off ends of vegetable.  Slice once lengthwise (so, the long way, or hotdog style if you remember first grade!).  Lay the long piece flat side down, and then cut lengthwise again, so you have two strips (depending on girth, you may want to cut your eggplant into four strips- I did!).  Then, cutting "hamburger style", cut 1" sections off the strips so you have little cubes (they obviously aren't square, but that's the best way I can describe 'em!).  If you have trouble with this let me know and I can take pictures next time :) ] 

Quinoa (at this point preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit and your barbecue to med-high; if you don't have a BBQ then wait and preheat grill pan on stovetop to med-hi before you start the veg mixture):
1.  Heat deep chef's skillet (I still LOVE mine!), or 6 quart saucepan with lid, to medium-high (7 clicks out of 10).  Once hot, add olive oil.

2.  Once oil is heated, add quinoa.  Stir to distribute oil throughout the grain.  Then, toast the quinoa- mine took 4 minutes to take on a rich, golden hue.

3.  Add liquid.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer (on my stove I reduced to 4 clicks out of 10) and cover.  Keep covered until all liquid is absorbed (mine took 20 minutes).  When it's done, just turn it off but leave it on the burner.

Roasted Veg:
1.  Put pre-cut onions, eggplant, and zucchini in large bowl.  Add olive oil and thyme.

2.  Placing sharp edge away from you, lay your large knife (chef's knife or Santoku) flat against each garlic clove (like you're making a sandwich with the cutting board and knife as the bread and the garlic clove as the meat).  Use the heel of your palm to quickly press down and crush the garlic clove- be sure to bruise and batter it!  You want the juices flowing.  Add crushed whole garlic cloves to the veg bowl.

3. Remove lemon zest and set aside.  Squeeze lemon juice over veg, then cut up and toss in wedges.  Gently mix together.  If you don't have a good coating of olive oil througout you may want to add a little more- we don't want sticking, and we do want carmelized loveliness!

4. Place veg in glass baking dish (I just used two casserole pans).  Cook in oven, turning every 10 minutes (high maintenance, but worth not sticking) or so until nice and roasted.  Mine took 35 minutes, though due to some chicken drama (we ran out of gas mid-grill) mine ended up a little bit overcooked.  I think 20-25 minutes next time should be more than fine.

Grilling Chicken:
1.  Place chicken breasts on pre-heated grill.  Cook approximately 6 minutes per side, or until they are 180 internally / no more pink.

2. Remove from heat and allow to rest

Assembling the whole lot:
1.  Slice chicken against the grain.  Squeeze 1/2 fresh lemon over it, and garnish with 1/2 the lemon thyme and reserved lemon zest.  Place lemon halves to look nice, if you prefer.  Some people like to eat them- ick, in my opinion!

2.  Spread quinoa on large plate or platter.  Carefully top with feta cheese.  Then add roasted veg.  Squeeze other half of fresh lemon over them, and garnish with remaining lemon zest and thyme.

All done!  It was REALLY good.  It would have been better had I not overcooked the veg (we finished the chicken in the oven, by the way, when the almost a little bit burned veg came out), but overall it was delicious and, while I did get some compliments, most people were too busy shoveling the tastiness into their mouths to say much! I think that usually speaks best for the quality of a meal :)

A few final thoughts- first, I know that lemons aren't a vegetable.  It just seems silly to throw "citrus fruit" throughout!  Also, you might think it weird to roast the whole lemon wedges, but they were actually really good. I did research and it's not bad for you to eat the whole thing.  Also, if adding whole garlic cloves to the veg freaked people out, it actually turns a bit sweet during roasting and so this dish has the undertone of garlic but it's barely noticeable.  I want to make it MORE garlicky next time, in fact!

Ok.  Enjoy!  I've heard through the grapevine that people have been trying some of these recipes, so don't be shy about giving feedback! Especially if something was gross, or you found some amazing way to alter it and make it better.  I can handle constructive criticism so share away!

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