"and one pasta with meatless balls (ew)"

It hasn’t been all that long since I’ve blogged last but it feels like it – to me at least – and for a while I just stared at the photos of the quinoa I made feeling a bit “meh” and disconnected from it. Then the more I looked at the photos, the more I remembered how delicious it was and now I’m feeling all enthusiastic about this recipe again.

So why’s it been a while since I’ve blogged? On Friday afternoon, Tim and I left the city to stay in Wairoa with his grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, sisters, mother…and some awesomely cute canaries that his grandad has been keeping. One of them honestly looks like its mum gave it a bowlcut, the feathers on top of its head all sprayed out flat give it the most adorably vexed expression. I tried to get a photo but it didn’t work. I did, however, get a photo of one of their cats, an enormous thing that would come and lean heavily on you like a dog does, and which would luxuriate in the sun like so – in the sort of way that makes your own lazing around seem inelegant and stiff-ankled in comparison.

But, back to stuff that I ate ages ago. After a cool lady that I work with mentioned that she’d successfully imitated a particular dish from Deluxe cafe using quinoa, I was inspired to try it myself, only making it completely vegan – why not? You’re already using quinoa, might as well go all out. And then I wanted to modify it further, to make a kind of meatballs-type recipe. I didn’t like the name “quinoa balls” and couldn’t think of what to call these nubbly orbs – something about “BALLS” in a food title to me indicates it’s only imitating something else, plus, you know, the anatomical description does the dish no favours. (“Groin!”) Strangely, meatballs themselves manage to safely avoid both connotations.

The quinoa ended up solving this issue for me, even though I didn’t see it as a good thing at first. See, the quinoa would not be balled. See the above picture? You can spot the granules already escaping at the edges, unwilling to maintain sphericality, but I can’t even express the amount of coaxing and spooning and rolling that it took just to get them to that shoddy, crumbling state. Nonetheless, I persevered and baked them, thinking that the heat might bind them together. It didn’t. They got even more crumbly and reluctant. In fact, of the sixteen balls that I put my heart, soul, and flavoursome sweat into rolling, but one survived the journey.

So now it’s just Baked Quinoa with Miso Tomato Sauce, and I don’t have to worry about the whole “balls” naming issue. It took me some time to get to this calm place of acceptance, though. One ball. Out of sixteen.

The tomato sauce is particularly magical, with a secret ingredient. And that ingredient is Peanut Butter. Yes. It thickens the sauce up a treat, and gives it an ever-so-slight nutty richness without tasting like a piece of toast fell in your sauce by mistake. Don’t leave it out! Unless you’re allergic to nuts, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Baked Quinoa With Miso Tomato Sauce (The M in Miso is also for “Magically Delicious”) 

1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons tahini, or hummus if you have it
1 teaspoon ground cumin


1 can tomatoes, preferably the chopped kind
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (or grainy, if that’s all you’ve got)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more or none at all if you like)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (or tahini, if you prefer)
A few tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Rocket and almonds to serve.

Set your oven to 200 C.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water – helps get the inevitable dust off – and tip into a pan which has about three cups of water in it. Bring to the boil and cook till the grains are tender, pale and fluffy. Drain, back in that same sieve if you like, and tip into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, season to taste, and spread across the base of a small roasting dish. (Line the dish with baking paper if you like – easy cleanup, hey-ohh!) Bake for 15 minutes.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a pan, then fill it halfway up again with water and tip that in the pan too. Add all the sauce ingredients except the thyme – using your wooden spoon to break up the peanut butter and miso and get it mixed in – then bring to the boil and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes while stirring, till thickened some. 

Take the quinoa out of the oven, pour over the sauce, then return to the oven for another ten minutes. Strew with rocket leaves and almonds, and serve with pride.

Despite causing me some trouble initially, this is exceptionally good-tasting stuff. The quinoa’s weightless texture and nutty flavour is emphasised with the addition of poppyseeds and sesame seeds, the sauce covering the deliciousness spectrum from salty to rich to sweet. Pour it over pasta or rice or even over real meatballs, it’s supremely lovely.

And yeah, the rugby world cup final happened and we won. My disinterest in the game remains, but as everyone else was watching it on Sunday night at Tim’s grandparents’ it would’ve been rude not to play along. So I offered some ideas for the drinking game: 1) have a sip every time the commentators indulge in outrageous hyperbole like “a nation at a standstill”, and 2) every time the word “groin” is mentioned we all cry “GROIN!” and sip our drink. I’m not actually big on drinking games, preferring to just drink in my own time, but fear not – it was more about coming up with rules than anything else, and we only had one drink each. I also, with not unnoticed irony, was the one of the whole rugby-interested crowd who managed to get the closest prediction of when the first try scored would be and what the final score would be. Flummoxedly baffled doesn’t even cover it.

Title via: the Broadway musical RENT – again! – and the Act 1 closer La Vie Boheme. Not to write an essay – I could – but I like this bit in the song, because it really does swirl round in a flurry of earnestness but then the waiter appears talking about their orders for miso soup and seaweed salad and tofu and so on, as if to say just the sort of thing you’d expect from them, thus subverting the earnestness somewhat. Anyway. That’s a story for another (hotly-anticipated, no doubt) essay. As always with RENT, I direct you towards both the movie version and the original Broadway version from opening night, 1996.

Music lately:

One of the fun thing about long car journeys is playing DJ. I didn’t have the time to make an actual playlist (just another thing I didn’t have time for!) so instead I went through the songs alphabetically and just chose one when it took my fancy. There’s not much more fun when you’ve been going round winding roads and the driver’s feeling weary, to put on Orinocco Flow and yell “Best Car Song Ever! SAIL AWAY SAIL AWAY SAIL AWAY!” It’s always appreciated.

I also love this song Best of Me by local singer Ria Hall. Love that there’s a mix of English and Te Reo in there and also that the station I listen to is thrashing it at the moment.
Next time: I’m making a pavlova, and if it works out alright, you’ll be seeing it here. 

11 thoughts on “"and one pasta with meatless balls (ew)"

  1. Katharine says:

    Hi Laura, this is a complete aside (and nothing to do with balls of any kind)…but have you seen the new River Cottage Veg cookbook? Its fab and there are recipes in it for Chocolate and beetroot, and pea and mint ice cream. What do you think? I'm intrigued!


  2. Anonymous says:

    So not all food is pretty but at least you have an adorable kitty pic. I love quinoa anyway and with those flavours it is such to taste great


  3. Hannah says:

    So, I saw “quinoa” and “miso” in your title and though “bull's eye!”. Then I kept reading and discovered peanut butter, dijon, and poppy seeds, and now I'm perplexed trying to think of something even more target-y than a bull's eye.

    Also, I really want to call my next raw vegan treats on my blog “cherry date groins” now.


  4. Emma says:

    It tastes the same (if you close your eyes).

    I never seem to have any quinoa in my possession. But if it ever makes it into my basket at the market, I may consider making 1 in 16 into a ball, and the remainder into a bake.

    I've never watched rugby, but imagine it to be boring, but with cool shirts. I'm trying to come up with more outrageous hyperbole. …but all I've got is something like “aaaaaand he scores! For himself, for his country, and for the glory of the sport!” And that's not very outrageous.

    Eww@ sharing comment space with the words “cherry date groins.”


  5. Anonymous says:

    All this deliciousness and exquisite writing makes it sound like you have the most beautiful life ever.
    What are you foody 'guilty pleasures'?


  6. Anonymous says:

    Yum, these flavours look gorgeous! Struggling to see how those quinoa balls (*groin*) would ever come together! I like your adaptation 🙂


  7. tori says:

    So glad I stumbled over here. Am loving the sound of the peanut butter to thicken a sauce. I love secret ingredients like that (and gosh I wish I'd had the 'groin' drinking game going while we were watching the final)


  8. Shaheen says:

    I eat quinoa either disguised in a vegan burger or in a salad dish, you recipe has intrigued me a lot especially as it has lots of other flavours enhancing not just the taste, but texture.


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