This Trend Is Not Dead Yet: BLT Quinoa Cups

Empathic and introverted are words I often hear to describe me. I would think they are just calling me quiet and overly sensitive, but that would be the reaction of someone overly sensitive, right? I don't mind the descriptions. I do feel things for other people and even things that can be a little silly.  For example, I feel bad for quinoa. Poor quinoa.


First, some people struggle pronouncing it. Keen-wah.  There, now that's out of the way. Second, for a seed that's been around since who knows when and was used by the Incas, it suddenly gained spotlight attention last year and was embraced by the gluten-free fans and cooks. Until then it was one of those "What? Skip." recipes shoved at the end of cookbook salad sections. I never gave it a thought until last year when a health kick brought it my house. I was skeptical at first, then I fell in deep quinoa love. It masquerades as a grain but it is really a seed rich in protein and amino acids. It has a snappy little pop when you bite into it and makes a great substitute for rice. It can be purchased or made into flour for making baked goods. I've even cooked it plain in water and then mixed with apple chunks, peanut butter, and honey as a warm breakfast. It's kid-approved.


As quickly as quinoa became a trendy "it" food, it was mocked as food blogging itself was and still is inundated with new blogs. (Hi!) Those trends are easy targets for parody. Now meatballs are all up in the food blog hits. I love meatballs, so I'm enjoying the new trend. Frankly, when you love good food, it's hard to hate on the trends. They tend to revive some old recipes you probably had not thought about for a while. And while I don't see as many quinoa recipes posted, it's still a staple in my pantry. One of my favorite ways to use quinoa is boil it in beef broth or chicken broth, toss it in a bowl with a bunch of other "stuff", mash it by the spoonful into mini muffin tins, and bake into Quinoa Cups. The possibilities are abundant - turkey and broccoli with cheddar, ham and swiss with spinach, cheese with finely shredded vegetables. BLT Quinoa Cups are a definite win because, well, BACON.


Insert Home Simpson "mmmm bacon" here. Fine, he said donuts, and I have the same reaction to donuts. But...bacon. Bacon. Can you tell we like bacon around here? Yep. Bacon. On the stove in a big black cast iron skillet or in the oven for a no-mess prep, it's all good. I prepared the bacon for my quinoa cups the day before by baking in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil for quick cleanup. I like to save the bacon grease to make a big pot of brown beans to serve over cornbread.


BLTs in my house are not really "BLT". There's bacon, of course. And there's tomato, naturally. But there's no L. I use spinach for more flavor and more nutrients. So we make BSTs.  I've been a spinach fan since I was a child and would ask my mother for canned spinach. I liked the taste, but also there was a canning factory in a nearby town we drove past on the way to the lake every weekend. That canning factory had a Popeye statue out front and I always looked for it and knew we were that much closer to the water. Now the thought of canned spinach makes me cringe, but I'm still on the spinach path. It's just a less sodium-infused path. Normally I buy fresh spinach. For the BLT Quinoa Cups, I thawed a box of frozen spinach and squeezed the excess water out. I've tried several ways to squeeze out the water including wrapping it in cheesecloth or hand towels and twisting the water out. That works fine but leaves a lot of spinach mess behind on the cloth. A custard cup pressing down on the spinach in a fine wire mesh worked great this time.


Tomato Fanville, population: me. But it's a gated community. I love the red fruit, but I'm picky about them. Soft, mealy, squishy, too much juice and seed: no thank you. Firm, thick flesh, and sweet: I'll eat you up like an apple. When I was pregnant with my son, I would eat an entire container of grape tomatoes every day, sometimes twice a day, like they were candy. I also craved to eat spaghetti sauce from the jar with a spoon like it was pudding. I figured there were worse cravings I could have had and, hey, bonus lycopene.


Whatever you put in your quinoa cups, think small. Frozen spinach was better than chunks of uncooked leafy spinach. Grape tomatoes in place of large traditional tomatoes. Use petite peas and grate or thinly cut carrots. Grate cheese as finely as possible and use the oh-so-dreaded powder Parmesan. I think the shakers of Parmesan get a bad rap from food bloggers. Not all of us have the desire or resources to stock our cheese pantries with half wheels of all varieties of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I'm not aiming for a James Beard award. I just need dinner cooked by 7:00 pm or I'll be using broom and cookie sheet to fight off a growing boy from the snack shelf.


A small ice cream or cookie dough scoop makes filling the mini muffin tins a breeze. You don't have to go mini. Use regular sized muffin tins if that's your fancy. Quinoa cups are so versatile, you can change up ingredients or size to suit your needs. I made this batch both mini and regular. Thank goodness for a double oven so I could cook two muffin trays at once. The mini and the regular muffin tins cooked at the same temperature and I let the bigger tray cook for 4 minutes longer or until it felt "bouncy" when I pushed on the middle of one of the quinoa cups. Your hands are always going to tell you more than a wooden toothpick or a knife or a measuring spoon or an egg separator ever will!


Hot or cold. Meat or no meat. Big or little. Main dish or as bites for a party. Quinoa cups are delicious and a big hit.

BLT Quinoa Cups   (yields approx 30 mini cups)

  • 3/4 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups liquid - water, beef broth, chicken broth, or vegetable stock
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 10 oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and excess liquid removed
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a fine mesh strainer, rinse the quinoa under cold water. In a medium saucepan bring the quinoa and the water or broth to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove the lid and the pan from heat and let cool slightly. 
  3. Combine all ingredients except quinoa in a large bowl. Add quinoa after it has cooled a bit so it doesn't prematurely cook the eggs or melt the cheeses.
  4. Prepare muffin tins by spraying with non-stick cooking spray. Use a small ice cream or cookie dough scoop to fill. Bake 15 minutes for mini cups and approx 18 minutes for regular cups. Let sit for 5 minutes then use a spoon or fork to pop the quinoa cups out of the muffin tins. Eat warm or refrigerate and serve cooled.

slightly adapted from Iowa Girl Eats