VegetarianMalia Howe

Quinoa Spinach Mac & Cheese

VegetarianMalia Howe
Quinoa Spinach Mac & Cheese

I should have known that I wouldn't be able to fool my two little mac and cheese connoisseurs (or macken-roni, as my 20 month old calls it) with a little quinoa substitution, but it was worth a try. I figured that a homemade cheese sauce made with real sharp white cheddar cheese would seal the deal, but I guess it couldn't hold a candle to the powdered junk I serve them frequently at their request. Quinoa is apparently not an acceptable form of a "tiny, baby noodle" as I tried to call it for my 4 year old. These two are tough. Lucky for us (my husband and I), this made a ton and we loved it. Texturally, it was a win with the panko topping (can you really go wrong with panko, I ask?), and it was warm, and comforting on a cold day. The fact that it was loaded with fresh spinach made me feel a lot better about the whole milk and cheese content. It's all about balance, you know.

Quinoa Spinach Mac & Cheese

-adapted from


For the Casserole: (Yes, "casserole" all you Minnesotans, NOT a 'hot dish'! That drives me nuts.)

  • 4 Tablespoons Butter 
  • 4 Tablespoons Flour 
  • 2 1/4 cup Whole Milk (2% would probably work, too, but I wouldn't go any lighter)
  • 2 dashes Freshly Grated Nutmeg (got news for ya--I was out of nutmeg so left it out. I don't like it anyway.)
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt 
  • 3 cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (I used extra sharp white cheddar and grated my own, but it's not necessary)
  • 2 cups dry quinoa  (cooked According To Package Instructions) 
  • 1 bag Fresh Baby Spinach


For the topping:

  • ½ cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese 
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, melted (I lightened this up a lot from the original recipe. You're welcome.) 
  • 1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs. I am sure you could use any dry bread crumbs you like, but the panko really does make it crunchy.

After you have cooked your quinoa (or while you are cooking it if you didn't make your quinoa ahead), make the cheese sauce: melt 3 T butter in a medium sauce pan over med heat and whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously until a paste forms ( a couple minutes). Gradually whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium/high and bring to a boil whisking the whole time. Stir in the nutmeg, salt and cheddar cheese. When cheese sauce is smooth remove from heat. In a large bowl, mix the quinoa, cheese sauce, and spinach. Transfer to a 9x13 baking dish and top with parmesan. Toss the panko with the 2 T melted butter and spread on top. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Feel free to make this ahead, I think it would work quite well. I also think you could freeze it (but don't add the panko topping until you are ready to bake it). I ate leftovers tonight and found it just as good as last night (though less crunchy because of the reheated topping). I'd venture to say you could substitute broccoli (parboiled and chopped) for the spinach , and it would taste remarkably like that beloved broccoli and rice casserole that graces many a Thanksgiving table (do they eat that here or is it just in the "south"?)

Enjoy, friends!