Spinach and Cheese Quinoa Casserole

by jenna on June 8, 2012

It’s hard moving across the country when you’re in your mid-twenties, out of school and on your own. Truth. I’d say for the first year and a half of me living out here in California I really struggled with finding good friends. I’m a natural introvert (can you tell?) and really missed my group of girlfriends back home. I had to force myself to break out of my shell a little bit and meet people here—it wasn’t easy! However, the moment I met Ashley in a small group last year I knew we would be friends….I probably knew that before she knew did, actually. And because I was so sure she was my new best friend (sometimes you just get a feeling, right?!), I decided to take a leap and bring some homemade chocolate peanut butter granola over to her house a few days after she had her baby and asked if she wanted to grab some coffee together sometime. Apparently she liked the granola because we started hanging out more, chatting about our life more, and soon I finally had that close friendship that I had been missing so much since I moved. You know those type of friends that will have your back no matter what, let you borrow their favorite shoes, will drive across town for hair emergencies and will always be honest with you? Yep, she’s one of those. She’s also a community leader at Influence with me in October..it’s going to be a blast.

Now, I’m definitely not the expert on how to make best friends, but homemade granola certainly can’t hurt. Yes, I bribe people to like me with food, why do you ask?

Every week, Ashley and I meet at Panera for breakfast and good old fashioned girltalk! Panera makes me miss college in a big way. And their hazelnut coffee? I die.

Last week she was telling me about some quinoa macaroni and cheese concoction she had made that both her baby and husband adored.

“You should make it and blog it!” She said. I told her I couldn’t steal her winning idea but she insisted….as sweet friends do.

So, I took her basic idea and added some things here and there…a little dry mustard, pepper, breadcrumbs and more cheese (can you ever really have enough?). I ended up with more of a casserole than classic macaroni and cheese, but it was DELICIOUS. Absolutely delicious!

This spinach and cheese quinoa casserole is cheesy and delicious, but still has that nutritional punch from all the veggies hidden in it. I think it’s the perfect meal on its own, but would also be awesome alongside some meat. Leftovers reheat wonderfully, too! And it is definitely kid and boyfriend approved.

Now go call your best friend….and your mom, while you’re at it, just to say hi. Virtual hugs!

Spinach and Cheese Quinoa Casserole

Print this recipe!

serves 4-6


1 1/2 cups dry quinoa

3 cups chicken broth

1 red bell pepper, chopped

3 green onions, chopped

1 tsp minced garlic

5 oz chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and all liquid squeezed out (about half a box!)

1 tbsp canola oil

1 cup milk

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cups grated mozzerella cheese

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp black pepper


Preheat oven to 375.

In a large saucepot over medium high heat, add the oil. Once hot, add the chopped bell pepper, scallions and spinach and saute for about four minutes—just until bell pepper has started to soften. Add the garlic and continue sauteing for another 30 seconds.

Add quinoa to the pot, followed by the chicken broth, salt, dry mustard and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed. Stir well.

Now, add the grated cheddar cheese and milk. Stir to combine then pour into a greased 9 x 13″ casserole dish. In a small bowl, combine the Panko and the mozzerella cheese. Sprinkle on top of casserole and bake for about 30 minutes until golden.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving (or not).


1 hour

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{ 90 comments… read them below or add one }

Brittany @ Brittany Cooks June 8, 2012 at 3:19 am

I can’t wait to be back in the states and try quinoa. I seem to be seeing it everywhere! Looks delicious! 🙂


Joy June 8, 2012 at 3:50 am

I bet I could get my husband to try this – he’s afraid of quinoa – the wimp


Kim | At Home With Kim June 8, 2012 at 4:00 am

What a sweet story! And what a blessing to have made a close friend like that. I love that you meet weekly… it’s so easy to allow busyness to get in the way of meeting regularly. I’m pinning this recipe to make for my family soon!!
PS ~ Influence is happening practically in my backyard… and I’m so so sad scheduling may prevent me from attending. 🙁 Praying for all of you involved as I’m sure it’s a lot of work to pull this together and prepare for…. Such a GREAT conference concept!!


Erika - The Teenage Taste June 8, 2012 at 4:02 am

Okay, this looks aaaaaaaaamazing! I want some…NOW! 🙂


Kristen @ notsodomesticated June 8, 2012 at 4:03 am

It’s always hard meeting new friends … I’m more of an extrovert, and I still struggle sometimes. It’s not easy to just say “Hi, be my friend.” 😉


Molly @ RDexposed June 8, 2012 at 4:18 am

Oooh. How interesting!


AJ June 8, 2012 at 4:35 am

What kind of milk did you use?


Jenn June 8, 2012 at 4:40 am

I think most recipes are taken from influences of friends, family, books – so no matter.

Happy you found a best friend!


val @ lots of dishes June 8, 2012 at 4:41 am

awesome! we just got a huge bunch of spinach in our CSA box and had NO idea what to do with it… until now!


Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat June 8, 2012 at 4:44 am

I love cramming as many veggies as possible into my meals and this sounds perfect! Jenna, the way you cook, I should think you’ve got people lined up around the block to be your friend! 🙂


Katrina June 8, 2012 at 5:02 am

Yum! This sounds so tasty!!


britt June 8, 2012 at 5:36 am

this looks so good! i’m making it asap (with a mini spinach-free version for lil guy since he’s allergic. crazy, i know.)!

i can TOTALLY relate on the whole making friends in a new place thing. i’m an introvert also and we moved to a new town about 6 months ago and i’m really struggling to find those kind of friends you can call at any moment, for anything. i will definitely have to try the granola thing 😉


Samantha June 8, 2012 at 5:42 am

YAY for good friends!! This looks awesome!


Maura @ My Healthy 'Ohana June 8, 2012 at 5:57 am

I love your story, I’m a natural introvert too and hoping to make a few good friends when we move to Hawaii this month! Maybe one will find me at a small group 🙂

Sharing this quinoa recipe with my aunt who is absolutely going to love this!!


Faith @ For the Health of It June 8, 2012 at 5:58 am

Making friends is tough when you’re older! No walking up to a random girl in a cafe and asking them “will you be my friend” like you were able to do in kindergarten!


Kaitlin @4loveofcarrots June 8, 2012 at 5:58 am

I can’t wait to try this!


The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh June 8, 2012 at 6:01 am

Oh yeah, this is so getting made!


Liz @ Tip Top Shape June 8, 2012 at 6:33 am

Love this!!! And you’re right about the hazelnut coffee at Panera! It’s delicious!!


Maryz June 8, 2012 at 6:36 am

I am so making this tonight! Looks absolutely delish!


Kristen @ The Chronicles of Dutch June 8, 2012 at 6:46 am

Im always on the lookout for a quinoa recipe that is jazzy! This looks really good. Thanks for sharing,Ashley!


Ali @ Around the VeggieTable June 8, 2012 at 6:55 am

Mmmmm this looks delicious 🙂


joelle (on a pink typewriter) June 8, 2012 at 7:10 am

Aw, I love this story! I felt the same way moving to D.C. alone.. I feel like it took me almost two years to really get in a groove. It’s tough to make new, close friends as an adult without school or something to fall back on as a crutch. Oh, and this recipe? LOVE.


Emilie @ Emilie's Enjoyables June 8, 2012 at 7:51 am

Girl time is the BEST time. And this quinoa dish looks awesome!


Heather June 8, 2012 at 7:53 am

i’m so obsessed with mac and cheese…but the quinoa version sounds incredible too!

i’m sooooooooo hoping i get to go to Influence in October! it sounds like it’s going to be truly fantastic!


Laura @ She Eats Well June 8, 2012 at 7:54 am

This looks SO good and I love making quinoa on Sundays for lunch the next few days. Also…that little Le Creuset is ridiculously cute.


mary @ what's cookin with mary June 8, 2012 at 8:08 am

Introverts unite ! ;0)


Andrea @ The Skinny Chronicles June 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

Ah, besties are the, well, the best. I always love a new quinoa recipe. Enjoy your weekend!


jenna k June 8, 2012 at 8:35 am

i’ve still never had quinoa because i’m nervous to trying cooking it. but this looks sooo amazing that i think i’ll have to get brave! 🙂


Sarah (I Dream of Beets) June 8, 2012 at 8:41 am

I ask girls out on dates all the time. It’s the only way to make friends when there’s not like a natural community of school or work. Hmm….come to think of it…I’ve asked out every boy I’ve ever dated, and every girl I’ve recently become friends with. For an introvert, I guess I’m bold:)

You MUST READ Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I like you’ll love it.


Janelle June 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

This is a perfect way to use up spinach from my CSA box. Yay! (And, also that one random red pepper that is languishing in my fridge).


Krystina June 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

I make something like this with mushrooms and gruyere and it’s so delicious.


Anj June 8, 2012 at 9:02 am

I completely understand the struggle of making friends in a new place, away from everyone and everything you know. I’m currently going through that having moved to Raleigh, NC recently. Good to know I’m not alone 🙂


Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic June 8, 2012 at 9:03 am

I have been obsessed with quinoa lately – this cheesy casserole sound great!


Stephanie June 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

I totally feel this post. I moved to San Francisco a little less then a year ago and I’ve made some friends, but no one super close. Being a fellow introvert, it can be hard to start making bonds with new girlfriends when you just want to hang out with the ones you’ve had forever! Now I feel I need to be bold and start connecting more with the girls at my yoga studio 🙂


Averie @ Averie Cooks June 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

Great looking recipe and adorable pics of you all! So glad you and Ashley have a weekly meetup of chitchat and girltime (plus baby!)


Heather June 8, 2012 at 9:26 am

I have been trying to figure out what to make for dinner on Saturday night – and I think this might be the perfect recipe! Thanks Jenna!!!


Megan @ Megan's Miles June 8, 2012 at 9:29 am

Yum! I love quinoa and cheese. I need to make this ASAP!


jes June 8, 2012 at 9:37 am

Hello from Charleston! This recipe looks great!!! I didn’t realize you were from Charleston until I saw your CofC shirt. Kudos!!


Urban Wife June 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

That is such a sweet story about friendship, Jenna! And this dish looks absolutely fantastic. We’ve been having all sort of fun in our home with quinoa and my husband is 99.9% smitten with it (yay, there is a God!) so when he tastes this variation, I’m sure he’ll never look back.


Kim June 8, 2012 at 9:59 am

I can’t wait to try that recipe! I totally agree about making friends. Its so much harder now that I’m older!


Megan June 8, 2012 at 10:01 am

YUM! I love all dishes that include couscous or quinoa with the addition of veggies (and cheeeeeese) Will be trying this soon, thank you Ashley and Jenna!


Angela @ Happy Fit Mama June 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

I’m still in search of great new friends in my area. It’s hard! I think you have found a winner in your brilliant new friend. That is one smart idea!


Leslie Means @ Her View From Home June 8, 2012 at 11:08 am

Jenna – I realize you are going to the influence conference – but will you be a speaker?? We (the co-founders of her view from home) are trying to decide if we should go! 🙂


Sam @ Fit for My Fork June 8, 2012 at 11:21 am

Oh man, this looks awesome. I have quinoa AND a bag of spinach going off in the fridge – I might just have to use both this weekend and make this! Thanks!

Making friends is so difficult. I don’t really have any in our current town but I haven’t made a huge effort to make any because I know I’m not staying here long. Makes me sad though 🙁 Friends are so important! If someone brought me granola, I would totally be friends with them! lol I’ll have to try that after we move to our new home! 🙂


Michelle June 8, 2012 at 11:36 am

It’s so great when you find a girl friend like that. They are hard to come by and it’s a bit more awkward to find a new friend when you’re older. As I remember someone once saying “it’s not like you can run up to them on the playground and say – wanna play? ” . Those were the days! 🙂
This recipe looks great and I’m going to test drive it this weekend! Thanks.


Dana June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

This looks delicious! I love quinoa and can’t wait to try this recipe 🙂 Thanks for sharing!


Shelley June 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm

this may be my dinner tonight! yum!


Pam June 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Making this! Sounds yummy!
My best friend of (36) years lives6 hours away but we get together at least 4-5 times a year? Nothing like a bestie!
Love your blog!
Book reviews, food, photography!
Keep it up!
Please (HUG)


Ally June 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm

That’s a really sweet story! I’ve also just moved to a new city, and being pretty shy and introverted it’s pretty tough getting settled and making new friends. Maybe I should try cooking for people more. 🙂

And the recipe looks delicious. I love one-dish meals.


Moni Meals June 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Jenna this recipe is fabulous. It’s so similar to my “Moni Quinoa mac & cheese Recipe.” I like how you turn yours into a casserole.

What a fun story about your girlfriend, love it. Home Made granola certainly doesn’t hurt anybody!;)


Mel Wellnitz June 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oh, my! This recipe ROCKS! I’ve tried many quinoa recipes. This is the first one that my husband actually took seconds of. Definitely will make this again!

I loved you sharing your friendship. It’s summer and I am a teacher. I’m really missing my friends who I eat lunch with every school day. Must make a lunch date with them soon!

Thank you 🙂


Julia {The Roasted Root} June 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

That friend Ashley of yours is quite the brilliant lady! And so are you for making this casserole! It looks wonderful and having the leftovers is even better! Have a great weekend!


Michal June 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm

(A) This looks amazing. I must try veganizing it. Thanks to both you and Ashley for sharing it!
(B) It’s nice to read about another person doing the move-away-and-try-to-make-friends thing. I’ve done it several times, and it’s really hard. I’m so glad it’s worked out for you!


jen June 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Jenna or Michal-

HOW CAN WE DO THIS VEGAN?! Please help a novice cook. I heart nutritional yeast and that is my only idea of how to start but I have no idea how to eliminate all the other stuff. It looks so yummy any and all recommendations would be much appreciated thank you so much.


jen June 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm

and how much fresh spinach instead of frozen? thank you!


kristen @ verbs and vignettes June 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm

i really enjoy that you both wore college tees to the panera bread for your breakfast date. :p and that casserole looks awesome!!! i never thought to swap some healthy grain for the mac in mac + cheese. and i love mac + cheese. holla.


Pure2raw twins June 8, 2012 at 7:02 pm

oh yum! this sounds amazing!!!


Patricia June 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Go Cougars! Class of 2009. Could I use fresh spinach? Glad to see fellow classmates living their dreams!


Emily @ Life on Food June 9, 2012 at 4:46 am

Recipe printed. I am going to make this for a BBQ party tomorrow. I bribe people with food too. It always works! Or maybe I just know the foodies.


Mel June 9, 2012 at 6:22 am

Holy yum, this looks delicious! I really wish quinoa existed in Morocco. But on the other hand, I do LOVE best friends. I’m going through a similar situation, albeit across the world and through the Peace Corps- but I know what you mean! Moving someplace new by yourself is hard no matter what country your in!


Sonal June 9, 2012 at 7:01 am

Granola such a “give away food” gift that i’m pretty sure 8/10 times that i’ve made it, it’s been for someone else 😉 This casserole looks so delicious!


Sarah June 9, 2012 at 8:01 am

I know just what you mean about finding best friends. I spent the summer in Idaho and found one there. Now that I moved home, I miss her very much. 🙁
The casserole looks delish – I love quinoa!
Great post!


em @ simplypresent June 9, 2012 at 8:04 am

I’m out of college and back at home. Most of my friends are in school or recently moved and it has been harder to stay in touch and it’s difficult to find new friends. I understand how special finding new relationships is! Panera = total comfort food. What a great way to celebrate a friendship!


Tasha June 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

I’m always looking for new ways to cook quinoa. It is my all time favorite grain, and so versatile. Thanks for the great idea!


Bre June 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I absolutely love quinoa! I have to try this!


Linda June 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I’ll definitely try this. My kids are reluctant to try quinoa, but they love cheese more than anything else in life, so it might work! I also enjoyed your story about finding a friend. I’m an introvert myself, and have always had trouble finding other women to bond with. Good for you for taking that first step to connect with your friend.


Amy June 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I made this for dinner last night and it was wonderful! I added more veggies: a whole tub of Olivia’s baby spinach that I chopped up (instead of using forzen spinach) as well as a grated medium sized zuchinni. Such a yummy and comforting dinner. I think I will cut back on the cheese next time. How would this come together without the milk… thoughts? Thanks for the great recipe!


JenE June 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Another winnah! I vegetarianized a bit by using TJ’s vegetable broth and soysation cheese. YUMMMM….. next time I might add my mom’s secret ingredient for mac n cheese: a dash of nutmeg. Can’t wait to eat the leftovers 🙂


Doris @ vanillacocoberry June 10, 2012 at 8:55 am

everything involving quinoa is a huge hit!!

you should try a sweet version of it with dried apricots!! sooo good! xoxo all the best from AUSTRIA


Hannah June 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

Very sweet story!
Can’t wait to try this quinoa recipe…the veggies in here are some of my favs!


Whitney @ Whit Likes Fit June 11, 2012 at 9:26 am

This looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it.


Ashley L June 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm

this looks amazing. cant wait to try it.


amy walters, aDESIGNdock June 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Ooh! You had me at Quinoa. Delightful Jenna.


Danya June 12, 2012 at 3:26 am

My gorgeous flatmate made this last night and it was divine! Will be eating leftovers for lunch today and I can’t wait 🙂


carrie June 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Just made this and it was delicious! Didn’t have peppers (subbed diced grape tomatoes) or the panko and it was still super yummy. Thanks!


Hillary July 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! I love quinoa and mac and cheese so the marriage of the two was really tasty! It was also an easy recipe to scale down to two servings so I was able to bake them in individual casserole dishes. Thanks so much for another great recipe!


Anthea August 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Hey there, just reporting back that I tried this for dinner tonight and it turned out great! I’m new to your blog and can’t wait to try the next thing that inspires me. 🙂


David September 5, 2012 at 5:25 am

This was really great. Thank you! Even my five year-old loved it.


Maggy September 9, 2012 at 5:01 am

I almost cried reading this! My husband and I just moved to Israel and I met a girl in our small group and did the SAME thing (the we are going to be friends, I just know it! feeling) I am so glad it worked out and I totally agree…Panera hazelnut is the best and always brings me back to perfect college moments!


Tracey September 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I made this today but used my own combination of ingredients:

Purple bell pepper, white bell pepper, orange bell pepper, spinach, broccoli, shitaki mushrooms, and crushed red pepper flakes. It was so creamy and cheesy!! You can do so much with the basic ingredients. Next time round I think I will add spinach, roasted pine nuts and feta cheese!

Thanks for the recipe!!


Shannon November 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I made this tonight for our ritualistic Meatless Monday (Your blog is a great resource for this among many other yummy things). It was so good. I love how the quinoa didn’t even taste like quinoa, I guess that’s why I love it. It can be used so many ways. Thanks for sharing the recipe!


Karen T. December 9, 2012 at 7:42 am

This recipe was DELICIOUS!! I forgot to buy cheddar cheese, so I used mozarella. Didn’t have enough to mix it with the panko, so I substituted shredded parmesan. My husband raved about this recipe. I’ll definitely make it again!


nicole January 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Can’t wait to try this!!


gretchen February 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm

i tried this with cheddar and parmesan and added an egg to hold it together and it was AWESOME. thank you so much!


Camille March 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I know this an old post, but our family absolutely loves this dish! We make it once a month! Thanks for your continued inspiration in the kitchen and life. Your a gem, Jenna!


Maria May 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Delicious! Make it vegetarian by using vegetable broth. I use organic “Better Than Bouillon” vegetable paste. So good! I didn’t have panko so I used crushed crackers. This is a fantastic recipe and will become one of my regulars. Can’t wait to bring it to the next potluck! Thank you for sharing!!


Maggie J May 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

Jenna, if we were having coffee this week of your wedding, I would first tell you to take a deep breath and enjoy everything. Then, I would give you a vintage casserole dish as a wedding present and thank you. This casserole has become a staple in my house. I love it.

Many congratulations and well wishes to you this week!!!


Illy Mooncat August 31, 2013 at 11:10 am

So it’s payday, and because of two illnesses in a row I haven’t grocery shopped in 2 weeks…. I wanted to make a nice Saturday lunch and use up the las little scraps we have in the fridge. I ended up with spinach, green onion, peas and corn, and a couple big scoops of pesto for flavor. Everything’s bubbling on the stove right bow awating Cassrole Assembly Time and it smells/tastes awesome. 😀 I used water and boulion instead of milk (see? NOTHING left lol) and it seems to be thick enough no problem. Can’t wait to feed it to fiance; he should be sold at “cheese” lol


Jasina October 5, 2013 at 4:46 pm

This was amazing!! Not as much protein as I was hoping for…so next time I think I’ll add more spinach.


Michelle November 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Just made this! I subbed fresh spinach because I already had it, and I used broccoli because I am not a bell pepper fan. I also threw some chia seeds in there because I had too much liquid left over after simmering for 20 minutes. It was so so so good. The Panko/mozzerella topping is fantastic!! I am excited for my leftovers this week!


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