Busy Athlete’s Black bean and Kale Quinoa, 3 ways, 3 days


My friend Amanda (see Ironclad Resolution post) and I are collaborating on a project involving coordinating workouts and nutrition for endurance athletes. One of the most common struggles for endurance buffs, or any busy person who is health and fitness conscious, is finding time to focus on high quality nutrition while fitting in high quality workouts, alongside the usual busyness of life, job, family, etc. Here's a big pot meal that can help alleviate some of the planning stress, while simultaneously negating the urge to pick up something quick on the way home. Make a big pot's worth on Sunday, for example, then transform it with little tweaks through the week. Although all recipes state exact measurements, one of the best parts of a recipe like this is, you can pretty much go on intuition and throw everything in, adding what you've got, with minimal risk of failure (failure in this case meaning, something inedible at worst or even just unappealing).

This particular skillet meal, using quinoa, black beans, kale, tomatoes, and spicy lean grilled chicken, was developed for two fabulous runner friends with related but different goals. Nick is an elite (yep, Nick, you are!) British runner focused on fueling an intense training regimen, including plenty of antioxidants and high quality protein. Diana is a consistent runner motivated by broad, inclusive health goals, as well as the intrinsic desire to "get back on track" after a luxurious hiatus in Italy for her honeymoon a few months ago. Diana is stunning, by the way, and the last person you'd expect to be weight watching, but she appreciates nutrient dense foods that boost energy without piling on excess calories.

Quinoa is an ancient grain used by the Incas to give their warriors an extra edge. A complete protein, meaning is has all 9 essential amino acids, it's a perfect source of high quality protein for vegetarian athletes. It's also rich in many other nutrients, including manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium, and gluten free, to boot. It tastes somewhat nutty, with a  texture similar to couscous, and is really versatile as well as quick-cooking. Kale, like other dark, leafy greens, is absolutely brimming with nutrients and crucial post-workout antioxidants, such as calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, iron and much more. In addition to the ingredients listed in the recipe, you can add more produce with ease. Including as many vegetables as possible is key to any athlete's nutrition.

Day 1:

Quinoa, black bean and kale skillet with grilled chicken (use shrimp or tofu instead if you prefer, or even leave out any other protein source); a little chicken is stretched far in this recipe, so while it's written for  3 chicken breast halves, I've used only 2; likewise, 4 would work really well also. This makes approximately 6 main dish servings, more or less depending on how you vary.

For the chicken:
  • 1  tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, chopped.
For the quinoa:
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups water
  • 4-5 cups torn kale
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed
  • and drained
  • 1/2-3/4 cup feta cheese, optional
1. Prepare the chicken. In a medium bowl, mix together the spices and coat over chicken. In a grill pan coated with cooking spray, cook until juices run clear, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and set aside. (*For convenience, you can also pan fry in the same skillet as the quinoa.)
2. In a large skillet, heat the 2 teaspoons oil. Sauté garlic and onion until lightly browned.
3. Add quinoa and cover with vegetable broth and water. Season with chili, paprika, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir in tomatoesand kale. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes.
4. Mix in the black beans and chicken, and continue to simmer until heated through. Before serving, top with feta cheese.

Day 2: Stuff and bake in peppers (also works with acorn squash) Fill bell peppers (I love red!), halved lengthwise and ribs/seeds removed, with approximately 3/4-cup quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese. Bake  10-15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

Day 3: Thin it out as more of a chunky soup; add broth, water, any other vegetables on hand,  a little red wine or balsamic vinegar, and a bit of cilantro.

Of course there are other variations, such as wrapping in tortillas, but being honest with ourselves, after awhile leftovers need to be left alone! Please feel free to share you creative ideas!

Photo credit: flikr user bengarland