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Monday, April 22

Gapers Block

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I was out to lunch recently with a friend, when she exclaimed quite excitedly, "I made quinoa (keen-wah) the other night and it was really good, and tasty, and quite easy."

We briefly discussed the ease with which this grain cooks and she mentioned how important it is to eat a variety of whole grains. She's right. And quinoa (even though it is really a seed and not a true grain) is like a superfood. The protein you get from it is as high-quality as the protein you get from milk (take note all you vegetarians), it's incredibly high in iron, it's practically drenched in lysine (a very important amino acid), and it's also chock full of riboflavin, potassium and B vitamins. And half a cup of dry quinoa gets you 318 calories, 1/2 gram of saturated fat and 5 grams of fiber.

This seed has been around for 5,000 years. And as my friend mentioned, it's incredibly tasty and so painfully easy and quick to make that I can't believe I haven't made it for myself in a very long time. Seriously, this stuff is couscous easy. You mix one part of quinoa to two parts of water, bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, cover for 15 minutes, fluff and eat.

It comes dried and can be found in the bulk section or the health food section of many stores. Half a cup of dry quinoa will give you about 2 cups of cooked quinoa, and since it's (kind of) a whole grain, it's fairly filling even though it's the size of couscous when it's done.

The only prep you'll need to do to the quinoa is to rinse it until the water runs clear. This usually just takes a minute but make sure you rinse it off very well before eating. There is a very bitter shell that gets removed by soaking it in an alkaline solution. Often remnants of this solution remain on the quinoa and can make it very bitter. So put the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and run under cold water for a minute or two, or put it into a bowl, fill with water, and drain using your hand as a sieve.

Since it is a seed, not a grain, the only thing that is kind of fussy about it is how you store it at home. Keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, like the top shelf of your refrigerator. Heat and moisture can make it mildew and the taste may change over time.

While you can quickly and easily cook quinoa when it's raw, you can also toast it in a dry skillet for 5 minutes before cooking to make the flavor a bit richer and nuttier. Just spread your quinoa on the bottom of a dry skillet over low heat and shake the pan every 30 seconds or so. Once you start to smell a bit of nuttiness, turn off the heat and continue with your recipe.

Quinoa makes great pilafs, goes very well with vegetables, and is a great way to use up bits of leftover meat (say from that chicken you either roasted or bought from the grocery) that you've got in your freezer.

Savory Quinoa Pilaf
1 small minced onion
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 cup of raw quinoa
2 1/4 cups of vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/4 cup of finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup of finely chopped carrots
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 roma tomato chopped fine

In a dry saucepan, toast the quinoa over low heat for about 5 minutes. While this is toasting, chop the onion, bell pepper, carrots and tomato. Once the quinoa is toasted transfer it to a bowl. Sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat until it is translucent. Add in the garlic and cumin and cook for one minute. Now add the stock, quinoa, bell peppers, carrots, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer it for about 10 minutes until the quinoa is soft and slightly translucent. Stir in the tomato and cook for another minute. Serves two as a full meal or four as a side-dish.

Sweet Quinoa Pilaf
1 cup of cleaned quinoa
2 1/4 cup of light coconut milk (add water if one can isn't quite enough liquid)
1/4 cup of chopped almonds
1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
1/4 cup of dried chopped dates, raisins, or cranberries

In a dry saucepan, toast the quinoa and the nuts over low heat for about 5 minutes. Transfer it to a bowl. Add the coconut milk and quinoa to the saucepan and bring almost to a boil. Reduce the heat to low before adding the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer lightly for about 10 minutes until the quinoa is soft. Fluff and serve. This is actually great for breakfast, or as a side dish to a spicy main course.

Quinoa With Leeks
1 large leek
2 tablespoons of olive oil (or 1 of butter and 1 of olive oil)
1 clove of minced garlic
Salt and pepper
1 cup of washed quinoa
2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock

Cut the leek in half and then in half lengthwise. Cut into skinny strips, place them in a bowl of cold water and rinse them very well. Shake them dry and place in a skillet with the olive oil. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until they start to go limp. Stir in the garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for one minute more. Now add the quinoa and the stock. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, cover it and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Serves two as a main course or four as a side dish.

Italian Quinoa Surprise
1 small minced onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 clove of minced garlic
2 large tomatoes chopped finely (canned tomatoes are fine)
Large handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped or 1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/4 cup of sliced black olives
2-3 tablespoons of smashed capers
1 cup of rinsed quinoa
2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup (or more) of chopped pre-cooked chicken, beef, seitan, etc.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion for about 3-5 minutes until it is translucent. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the basil, olives and capers. Stir in the quinoa and the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 8 minutes. Stir in the meat and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serves two as a main course or four as a side dish.

Almost any type of dish that normally gets served over rice can be served over quinoa. It's less fussy to cook than rice is, far better for you than white rice, quite tasty, and a nice change of pace.

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