This week’s double take is brought to you by the letter Q...for quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Quinoa is a grain with a slightly nutty flavor which becomes puffy and soft (sort of like rice but not really) when boiled. Pilaf is a grain cooked in a broth. Prior to this point, I had not heard of quinoa, which I phonetically pronounced (Queen- O-ah). Oh well. Now I know. Also, I had always thought of pilaf of being a rice dish, so I was surprised when the recipe lacked rice. Thanks to wikipedia, dictionary.com, and Barbara Fairchild (in Bon Appetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh) for clarifying that. After learning how to pronounce quinoa, I still needed to find it. Quinoa can be found in the rice and grain sections of most major grocery stores in a box. However, in this form you’re likely to pay over $7 per pound. To save yourself the sticker shock, if you have a Whole Foods, Fresh Market or other specialty grocery store, check out the bulk grains. At Whole Foods, quinoa was about $2.60/ lb in bulk bins. The bulk bins give you the option of scooping as little or as much of a grain as you need so you can get ½ c. or multiple cups for the same relatively inexpensive rate. Further, if you still want the boxed version that was less at Whole Foods by $1. Quinoa looks like small beads and can be either beige or red in color.
Leeks were another element of the recipe that is not common to many Americans. Leeks are members of the onion and garlic family. They have a mild flavor and go well as a substitute for or complement to onions. I have recently used them in quiche with tasty results. Leeks are found in the fresh produce area of grocery stores. To use leeks, rinse well and slice off the root end and the dark green leaves. Pull off the outer layer of the leaves and rinse again. (Leeks tend to get some rocks and dirt inside.) Now slice up the light green and white parts which remain and use them as directed in your dish.
The rest of the ingredients in this recipe were more familiar: chicken broth, bell peppers, celery, carrots, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Note: I’m not a fan of celery. However, for the purpose of comparison, I used it anyway. Now that I had everything gathered, it was time to get started.
How to (According to me):
1) Chop up the vegetables. Bell peppers can be coarsely chopped but carrots, celery and leeks are probably best minced. I chopped the coarsely and dropped the last three in the food processor for a few seconds to save time. Combine the vegetables together in a bowl for later use. You can wait and chop some vegetables while the quinoa cooks but I wouldn’t suggest chopping them all then unless you are MEGAchopper, the amazing superhero chopper who preps vegetables even faster than Rachel Ray.
2) Place quinoa in a fine strainer or cheesecloth and rinse well. (Quinoa has a bitter coating on the outside that must be rinsed before cooking).
3) Add chicken broth and quinoa in a small saucepot and bring to a boil. If you happen to look at a box of quinoa, it recommends 2 c. of fluid to 1 c. quinoa. This is a good approximation.
4) After quinoa comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to a low boil/simmer for 15 minutes.
5) Finish up chopping the vegetables and toss in a bowl together. Mince the garlic and place in a separate small bowl. I used 3 cloves based on a measurement the cookbook listed but would recommend a heavy hand with garlic if you actually want to taste its flavor. By heavy hand, I mean you can easily double it without a second thought.
6) Add a small amount (around 1 Tbsp) of olive or vegetable oil to a pan and toss in the all the vegetables. Cook until they are done.
7) Combine vegetables with quinoa (which at this point should be fluffy and the fluid should be soaked up by the grain). Add garlic and parmesan. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Evaluation: Bland yet peppery. I know this sounds nuts but its true. Ruthann stopped by for a taste and agreed. The main flavors I tasted were celery and pepper. I wanted some burst of flavor but it was lacking in the recipe as described. I would recommend doubling the garlic, possibly skipping the celery and substituting other vegetables with a more pronounced flavor. Onion and tomato came to mind immediately. However, to make the dish tasty with minimal effort, I added fresh pineapple. I know, that probably sounds like a weird selection. However, the pineapple cut the flavor of the pepper and added a sweet flavorful element. In the future, I plan to try a couple other quinoa recipes. I liked the texture of the quinoa and the fact that it’s a grain with high protein serves as motivation to incorporate it into my diet. Neither Ruthann nor I were interested in repeating this recipe but it served as a stimulus for us to try other recipes with quinoa. Note: The recipe (as written) makes a lot of food. I’d say at least 8 servings of ¾ c. each. The book lists it as 4 servings but that didn’t seem realistic to me.
Be sure to head over to Fabulously Fun Food to get Mel’s two bits worth on the recipe.