A few months ago I was lucky enough to take a bucket list trip to visit one of my best friends in Peru. I've been wanting to see Machu Picchu for a long time and the fact that Meg moved to Cusco made it the perfect, stars aligned moment to bite the bullet and buy the ticket!
The colors and flavors of Peru took my breath away. I wasn't really familiar with the cuisine until I did a little research. Depending on where you're at in the country, they're known for different things. Cuy - Guinea pig, alpaca, ceviche, potatoes (over 3,000 varieties), and quinoa to name a few. We were lucky enough to have the chef at our hostel create a feast of peruvian dishes for us to try. I guess that's the perk of being best friends with the owner's girlfriend :)
We feasted on lomo saltado, aji de gaina, potato dishes of all sorts, Mazamorra morada - a purple corn pudding that tastes like Christmas, ceviche, peruvian fried rice, and 3 other amazing dishes that I didn't catch the name of. We feasted like kings. My favorite was the lomo saltado - a simple steak dish with peppers and onions served with french fries AND rice. Everything in Peru seemed to be served with two forms of starches.
One thing I really enjoyed were all the different ways they used and prepared quinoa. For our first meal in Cusco, Meg took us to one of her friends restaurants. Almost immediately upon sitting down they brought us some little nuggets of chicken crusted in quinoa. Um, GENIUS! I immediately proclaimed to Meg that this would be making an appearance on the blog, and here it is!
I love the idea of using this seed (although I think of it as a grain) to create a healthier, protein + fiber packed chicken finger. I baked mine but if you're feeling naughty, frying would make them spectacular. That's how they were served to us in Peru and I have to say, I preferred the crunch frying gives it. And lets be real, how naughty could it be when you're using such healthy things?!
quinoa chicken fingers
yields 4 servings
4 chicken breasts or 8 - 10 chicken tenders
2 eggs beaten
2 c. cooked quinoa (I used red but you can use any type)
1 c. panko bread crumbs
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
salt + pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil
In a shallow bowl, beat eggs and set aside. In another shallow bowl, combine: quinoa, bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic powder, salt + pepper.
Pat your chicken dry with some paper towels and then dunk them in the egg mixture. Pick one piece up at a time, allow the excess egg to drip off and then dump it in the quinoa breading mixture. Pat hard so that you get as much of the coating to stick to the chicken breast. Place on a baking sheet (TIP: I like to put my wire cookie cooling racks on top of the baking sheet so that they bake up extra crispy). Repeat until all chicken pieces are coated. Depending on how much mixture sticks to the chicken you may need to add more breading. This isn't science, just dump some more of the breading ingredients and continue dipping. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and place in oven.
Bake at 350º for about 20 - 25 minutes depending on thickness (15 - 18 if using chicken tenders). Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.
you can make this gluten free by using all quinoa or using GF bread crumbs. i served this with a roasted red bell pepper sauce but you could add all sorts of fun seasonings/flavors to the chicken tenders before baking. consider using this spice mix or your favorite curry spices lightly dusted on the tenders before dipping into the breading. also, marinading the chicken in some buttermilk or dairy with spices would be a great idea. give the meat some flavor while tenderizing it!
you could even serve these as little chicken nuggets by chopping up the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces. this is how we had them as an appetizer in Cusco. next time i make these i'm totally doing bite sized pieces.
i used red quinoa but you could use brown quinoa or even experiment with other grains/nuts. additionally, i used panko bread crumbs but experiment with your favorite or whatever you have on hand. i liked a 2:1 ratio but maybe you'd like more or less bread crumbs in the mixture? if you like your tenders extra crispy, i recommend frying them in a little bit of oil instead of baking. watching your cholesterol? you can whip up egg whites instead of using whole eggs.
these can also be frozen before baking and kept in an air tight bag/container for a few months. so make a double batch and freeze half so you can have tons of chicken on hand for later!