Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Exploring the Mother Grain: Quinoa Cuisine

At a time when the trend is to go gluten-free--whether health issues dictate it or not--quinoa is cast as a go-to grain. And certainly, it's a delicious, nutritious option for people with severe allergies to wheat or who suffer from celiac disease. But even those of us who enjoy our gluten can both relish quinoa's earthy flavors and chewy texture and benefit from its tremendous nutritional qualities. Quinoa is a complete protein and packed with calcium, iron, fiber, and potassium. I appreciate the fact that it helps manage Type-2 diabetes, thanks to the antioxidant quercetin that's found in it.

Quinoa is usually relegated to a side dish but in their new book Quinoa Cuisine ($16.95/Ulysses Press) authors Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser have developed 150 recipes that turn quinoa--the grain, the flour, and flakes--into everything from muffins and stuffings to tarts and pie crusts.

In the book's introduction, the authors set the lay of the land, explaining quinoa's background, health benefits, and the various cooking methods. While the book is organized by the seasons, they open it with 12 basic recipes that can be used alone or incorporated with other recipes in the book. So, the Quinoa Pizza Dough will find its way later in the book as a component in Spinach and Black Olive Calzones while the Quinoa Buttermilk Biscuits (I'm dying to try this) are the basis for Chicken Potpie with Quinoa Biscuit Crust.

There are a few recipes that just seem to stick the quinoa into the ingredients for its own sake. Their Hummus has all the usual ingredients--plus quinoa flakes. I gather it's to add a nutty flavor and smooth texture, but it does feel like an unnecessary add-on. Yet I do appreciate using quinoa as a thickening agent in their Mushroom Soup.

My favorite section was the salads. I'm eager to try the Kimchi-Quinoa Salad with black quinoa and cucumber. What I did try was the Quinoa Salad with Kale, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan. It's a very simple dish and packed with flavor, especially if you make the salad a day in advance of serving to let the quinoa absorb the mustardy dressing. It's listed as a fall dish, but here it is July and my kale came straight from the farmers market, so it works for me for in hot weather months.

Harlan and Sparwasser--both with many years of culinary expertise--have created recipes accessible to home cooks, although finding ingredients like quinoa flakes and flour could be challenging in some cities. The recipes themselves are not especially complicated and are nice twists on the familiar, plus there's something for everyone. There are kid-friendly recipes, gluten-free recipes, many that are perfect for vegans and vegetarians, and some that are for time-challenged cooks who need to get something on the table in 30 minutes or less. Quinoa Cuisine is a terrific introduction to a grain that's been a bit mysterious to many and a great resource for those who are looking for new ways to prepare it.

Quinoa Salad with Kale, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan
(printable recipe)
from Quinoa Cuisine by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser

Serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, minced
2 cups white quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups chopped kale (about 12 ounces)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
kosher salt and black pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and sauté, stirring until lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water and kale, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the mixtures to a large bowl and let cool. Stir occasionally to bring the warmer part of the  mixture up from the bottom.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard until smooth. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, whisking continuously to emulsify the dressing.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the cooled quinoa mixture. Stir in the pine nuts and Parmesan cheese and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Cover and chill completely, 2 to 3 hours. Stir just before serving to fluff the salad and break up any clumps.

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  1. Can't wait to try this Caron! Quinoa is a staple now for me. Thanks for the great recipes and information.

  2. My pleasure. Quinoa is a go-to for me, too, and it's refreshing to have some intriguing new recipes.