Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!)

~ The family-pleasing flavors of chicken fajitas, in a simple baked casserole! Bonus: the base is super-healthy quinoa, with no pre-cooking needed! Seriously delicious, and soooooo easy! ~

This Recipe Is:     Gluten Free  

a serving of this casserole on a square white plate, with optional toppings in the background

Hark, tiny quinoa, how I doth love thee …

Oh dear … I just remembered I’m not a poet.

Right.

But this quinoa bake, with its genius no-cook method. Well, I kinda felt like I wanted to write it an ode … or something like that. (Is an ode Shakespearean? I was for sure not good at Shakespeare.)

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

Huh.

Maybe a limerick? We learned those in … what … first grade? That seemed manageable. But first grade was a looooong time ago, and I couldn’t recall if limericks have five lines … or three … And do they always involve leprechauns and rainbows and kittens, or do I only think that because that’s what you write about when you’re in first grade?

*SIGH*

Ok …

We’re just gonna tackle the subject of the incredible fabulousness of this quinoa straight-up. Got it? Are you with me???? (Really … say yes … as you recall I’m admittedly terrible with poetry!)

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

So here’s why this really deserves an ode …

It’s kinda magical. As in, if you did write it an ode, there probably should be rainbows and leprechauns … it’s magical, I tell ya!

And all because you get to skip an ENTIRE cooking step! I know, right!?!? How cool is that!?!

You don’t have to pre-cook the quinoa!

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}
So easy! Simply mix the uncooked quinoa directly in a 9×13 baking pan along with your salsa, black beans and some chicken broth.

Just dump it into the baking pan and the magical quinoa takes care of the rest. (While you go help with converting fractions or memorizing multiplication tables or reminding the kiddos about the household no bickering policy). Niiiiiiiice!

When it occurred to me to try this, I wondered if it would actually work, and why (if it did work) I hadn’t come across more recipes that used this method. It seems so logical, right? If you can bake pasta without pre-cooking it (hint hint … wait’ll you check out the upcoming post about that!) well, then why couldn’t quinoa work the same way? (These are the kinds of questions that keep food bloggers awake at night.)

If you follow THK, you know we did a big ‘ole post about all the ins and outs of cooking quinoa. In fact, it’s the most popular thing we’ve ever posted – no kidding! So, I’ve done a fair amount of research and testing when it comes to my friend quinoa.

Still, I was so excited about the no-pre-cooking idea. Why hadn’t I seen this before? (Why, oh why, hadn’t I tried it before???) After all – you, my THK friends, know that we loooooove to skip steps if it makes more time for fractions and multiplication tables, right!?!?

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}
The fajita strips just need a quick toss with the delicious Mexican spices, and they’re ready to nestle on top of the quinoa mixture for baking.

So I gave it a try. What better way to see what would happen?

I was actually shocked (and ridiculously excited) to find that … IT WORKED! Like a charm, actually! Or, well, (wait for it …) like MAGIC!

You can bet you’ll be seeing more no-pre-cooking quinoa bakes from Two Healthy Kitchens in the future. Why? Because they’re so gosh-darn easy! Not to mention totally jam-crammed with nutrition!

This fajita version was a total home run at my house. All the family-friendly flavors of chicken fajitas, in one super-easy casserole – no tortillas or messy jamming-the-fillings-into-a-wrap needed. It’s the kind of meal where you keep scooping a tiny bit more onto your plate … and then just a tiny smidgen more … and then maybe just a little …

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!) {from Two Healthy Kitchens}

Because it’s too good to stop eating.

Oh, and also magical. With rainbows.

And lucky you. In the eleventh hour before we posted this, my creative husband came to our rescue with a fitting limerick.

So, enjoy … or … errrrrrr … whatever ………

For the Mexican feast you’ve been lookin’
It’s a favorite that could be mistooken
For food full of fat
But we never do that
And the quinoa requires no cookin’

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!)

Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!)

Yield: 13 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

The family-pleasing flavors of chicken fajitas, in a simple baked casserole! Bonus: the base is super-healthy quinoa, with no pre-cooking needed! So easy! 

  Gluten Free  

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) jar of your favorite thick and chunky salsa (see note)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa (rinsed if needed – see note)
  • 1 red pepper, cut into strips (to equal about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 green pepper, cut into strips (to equal about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 of a large sweet onion, cut into strips (to equal about 1 3/4 – 2 cups)
  • 1 pound chicken breasts, cut into strips, or 1 pound chicken tenders (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • optional toppings for serving: shredded reduced-fat cheese, shredded lettuce, reduced-fat sour cream, avocados or guacamole, chopped cilantro or green onions, hot sauce such as Tapatío

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Mix salsa, black beans, chicken broth, and quinoa in a 9x13 baking dish coated with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, combine peppers, onion, chicken, oil, and seasonings until thoroughly combined. Spoon pepper mixture over quinoa mixture in baking dish.
  4. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40-50 minutes (depending on thickness of your chicken and peppers and your brand of quinoa), or until chicken is cooked through, veggies are crisp-tender, and quinoa is done (quinoa will no longer look like tightly closed white dots but will instead be tender and you'll see lots of quinoa "tails").
  5. Serve with desired toppings.

Notes

Salsa: We generally use a thick and chunky salsa for this recipe, but have also tested it with looser, less thick varieties. Either will work fine, so feel free to use whatever you have on hand. However, less chunky salsa will result in a runnier, looser casserole (which is still perfectly delicious). Either way, the casserole will thicken slightly upon standing, if you prefer that.

Quinoa: If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, then before you add it to the casserole, you will need to rinse it in a sieve, swishing it with your fingers until the water runs clear. We always look for pre-rinsed brands to save that step.

Chicken breasts or tenders: Even when using chicken tenders, we often still cut larger tenders in half lengthwise to create thinner, fajita-like strips with more surface area to be coated with the delicious fajita spices. If you're in a hurry, though, you can use the tenders whole, although the meat won't be as well coated in the spice mixture. Also, if using tenders, be sure that your butcher has done a good job removing the little white nub of tendon from the end of each tender. If not, just cut that off to avoid having a rubbery, unappetizing piece of gristle after cooking. We generally find that there's no need to worry about removing the white wisp of tendon that extends all the way down through the tender, as it generally becomes unnoticeable after cooking. However, some people don't like the idea of that tendon – if that's true for you, or if the tenders available at your market are not well-trimmed and have extremely tough tendons, we advise just skipping them and choosing chicken breasts instead.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 servings Serving Size: about 1 1/2 heaping cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 314Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 48mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 9gSugar: 6gProtein: 28g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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Published on
Updated on July 31, 2021
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