Monday, April 19, 2010


Quinoa! It looks kinda freaky (something about all those tiny dots just makes me uncomfortable, the way fish roe does), but it tastes delicious (mild, a bit nutty), has an addictive texture (fluffy, slightly chewy), and is crazy good for you (chock full of protein, fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron). Not to mention that it’s a really fun word to type and say.

Like just about everyone, I’m trying to incorporate more grains into my diet. (Zzzz, I know.) Also, for my own entertainment, I some need new meal platforms; my favorite things to cook are one-dish dinners that combine a starch with a bunch of vegetables and herbs, but one can (or should, at least) only eat so much pasta and I don’t really like rice. Exploring the exciting frontier of grains, especially with summer salad season fast approaching, gives me a whole new category of recipes to try, and I’ve been eagerly a-bookmarkin’ in anticipation.

A few weeks ago, I ate dinner with my friend P, who’s recently been diagnosed with a host of food allergies, including an allergy to wheat. So one of the things she cooked for me was quinoa, and it was so tasty I was inspired to cook it myself for the first time. Sifting through quinoa recipes on Food Blog Search, I encountered this one from Eggs on Sunday, which seemed like the perfect gateway drug, dovetailing perfectly with my annual obsession with asparagus and lemon.

I could tell that A was a little suspicious of the quinoa, but he sampled it gamely (I served proscuitto-wrapped chicken on the side to soften the blow). In pitching the dish to him, I had lamely described it as “sort of like rice or couscous, but better”; after tasting it, he amended, “It’s like how I always wish couscous could be.” In other words: thumbs up. I followed the recipe exactly and found it easy and thoroughly delicious—however, the lemon flavor is strong, so if you’re not a crazy lemon fan like me, you might consider dialing down the lemon juice or zest to start out with (you can always add more later). I've classified this as a side dish, but there's no reason you couldn't eat a big bowl of it as a light meal on its own. As a bonus, it's especially pretty, with the pink shallots adding a nice pastel accent to the green asparagus and pale-yellow grain. This will be a certain addition to my spring menu rotation, and I’m now officially emboldened to experiment further with quinoa. Quin-yeah!

1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
2 cups water
1 pound asparagus, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Rinse 1 cup quinoa well under cold water, then place it in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, mix the lemon juice in a small bowl with the minced shallot, a good pinch (about ½ tsp) of coarse salt, and a few good grindings of fresh black pepper. Whisk to combine, then drizzle in the 3 tablespoons olive oil, whisking all the time. Add the lemon zest and the chopped herbs, and whisk to combine.

3. When the quinoa is done cooking, transfer it to a large mixing bowl and pour the vinaigrette over it, then stir with a fork or large spoon to coat the quinoa.

4. Fill your saucepan back up with water and bring it to a rolling boil with enough coarse salt to season the water. Add the pieces of asparagus to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Drain the asparagus and run some cold water over it to stop the cooking process.

5. Add the asparagus to the quinoa and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. I even ate some five days later and it was still decent. I reheated it in the microwave, but you could also try eating it cold, for more of a salad-like effect.

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