Smoked Kielbasa, Kale and Cider Quinoa Skillet

Smoked Kielbasa, Kale and Cider Quinoa Skillet

Of all the recipes available in books, magazines, and online, only a small handful grab our attention enough to make it to the dinner table. What makes those stand out?

The clincher might be a mouthwatering photo, any easy preparation, or a good nutritional profile. Sometimes, it’s an unexpected ingredient.

Last fall, a skillet dinner with a unique combination of ingredients piqued my interest, and a variation of it has become a cool weather regular in our house. In this recipe, quinoa is cooked in a mixture of equal parts chicken stock and apple cider.

While I love cooking with cider and use it in butternut squash soups and a favorite baked apple recipe, my husband isn’t big on mixing sweet and savory flavors. I had my doubts as well and would have passed on the recipe, had a small caption not caught my eye. The caption read that, despite what it might seem, the cider-broth mixture does not taste sweet. Of course, I had to test that claim.

The first time I made this meal, my husband was out of town, but my kids downed their portions and returned for more.  I loved it, too, so I prepared the meal again soon after, fully expecting my husband to sniff out the cider.  He didn’t notice–but he did rave.

Though the dish is not overtly sweet, there is an ever-so-subtle undertone of sweetness. However, it’s complemented by the savory sausage and offset by the slightly bitter kale.  This dish strikes me as both quintessential fall and a little offbeat.

That said, don’t save it for cool autumn nights.  This nourishing, one-pot meal will warm your soul all the way through winter. Kale is one of the few vegetables that can be enjoyed fresh–and often local–throughout the coldest months of the year. What’s more, a cup of kale has only 33 calories and supplies protein, fiber, and a wealth of vitamins and minerals.

I confess. If I’m lucky enough to have leftovers of this meal, I tend not to share. They taste even better reheated for lunch the next day.

Smoked Kielbasa, Kale and Cider Quinoa Skillet
Despite the use of cider, this all-in-one meal is hardly sweet, yet the broth has a uniquely delicious flavor.  A large pot may be used for this recipe if you don't have a wide-bottomed skillet with a lid.  If the surface area of the pot is smaller than the size specified below, you may wish to remove the lid at the end of the cooking time and simmer off some of the broth. It’s also okay to leave the mixture a little soupy.  Just serve in a pasta dish or bowl with some crusty bread to sop up the flavorful liquid.

Yields 4-6 servings.
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  1. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  2. 1 small onion, diced
  3. 12-14 ounces smoked kielbasa, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds (see notes for optional chicken addition)
  4. 4 cups lightly packed chopped kale (from a 5 to 6-ounce bunch; strip leaves from tough stems)
  5. 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, plus extra leaves for garnish
  6. 1 cup apple cider
  7. 1 cup chicken broth
  8. 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained well
  9. 1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet (12 to 14-inch diameter with a lid) over medium-high heat.  Optionally, you may use a large pot.  Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until translucent.  Add the kielbasa and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 8 minutes or until golden brown. Add the cider and chicken broth, deglazing the pot as you go, and then stir in the kale and sage. (The kale will shrink down as it wilts.)
  2. Turn up the heat to bring the liquid to a boil. Add the rinsed and drained quinoa, cover the pan, and reduce to a simmer.  Cook until the quinoa has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender, 20-25 minutes. If you find that the quinoa is tender but there is excess broth in the pan, boil the mixture for a minute or so with the lid off.
  3. Stir in the cranberries, if using, and then remove the skillet from the heat and let sit with the lid on for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Depending on the type of broth used, you may wish to lightly season with salt and pepper.
  1. I often make this with 6 to 7 ounces smoked kielbasa and 3/4 pound chopped boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  The sausage and the chicken can be added to the skillet at the same time.  Chicken thighs work especially well because they don't dry out as the quinoa cooks.
  2. A sprinkle of sage leaves (or even some uncooked chopped kale) brightens up the presentation of the finished dish.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen
Recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats.

Smoked Kielbasa, Kale and Cider Quinoa Skillet
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  1. Julie

    I made this for dinner. It’s so delicious! I subbed 1 teaspoon dried sage for the fresh and omitted the dried cranberries.

  2. Joni

    Thanks for this recipe. It was easy to make which is good for me because I do not usually do well with recipes. I was thrilled to be able to get all the ingredients at Central Market on Tuesday plus use my own Kale and my neighbor’s Sage. I used the mixture of sausage and chicken and also threw in some carrots. Delicious.

  3. Neil

    This totally rocked (didn’t use the cranberries) and it WAS even better the next day. A few picky eaters didn’t like the quinoa but loved the flavor and the rest of it, so will try it again with rice substituted for that just so I can have more again. Perfect way to use up the some of the cider you get in the fall after the first couple recipes you make with it. Although if they end up eating it all, i’ll go back to the quinoa just so I can have more for myself the second day

  4. Kathy

    This was very good but I should have followed my instincts and poured off the grease after browning the keilbasa. I’ll do so next time because it was a bit greasy.

    1. Ann

      Hi Kathy,
      It’s interesting because the smoked kielbasa I buy doesn’t give off much grease. Was yours smoked? I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe overall, and I appreciate your helpful comment.

  5. Mary Lou Keller

    Ann, this is RIGHT up my alley! I am on a kale kick of late, and all of the ingredients look amazing. We were just in Traverse City Michigan last week for a short vacation and brought back a lot of cider, but of the “hard” variety, so I will need to get some regular cider to use. Pretty sure my husband will love this recipe.

    We also brought back a half peck of Sweet Tango apples.. My new favorite next to honeycrisp!

    1. Ann

      I can’t wait to hear what you think, Mary Lou. Enjoy the goodies from Michigan…I hope your vacation was delightful!