The increased budgetary restrictions imposed by our unwilling ownership of two houses are leading us down some interesting culinary paths. Our latest discovery is quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), a South American seed that cooks up into a nutty, flavorful, and filling side dish. I’d heard of it for years but never ventured into making it myself until recently. We found a supply at Costco, ample evidence that it’s made the leap from the Birkenstock and brown rice crowd into the Land of Wal-Mart.
As for the taste, if couscous and brown rice got married and had a baby, it would be quinoa. When cooked, the seeds are roundish like couscous, but the flavor more closely resembles brown rice. We’ve taken to calling this grainy love child “Quinoa, the Outcast Indian Maiden” in honor of Eudora Welty’s bizarre little short story, “Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden,” and it’s made many an appearance on our dinner plates as of late.
Here’s a recent, simple version with just onions and garlic, served with a smoked paprika fish.*
*Unfortunately I can’t reproduce the smoked paprika fish recipe, which was thrown together using the juice from Rick’s Pick’s Smokra, a spicy pickled okra heavily infused with smoked paprika. With Smokra at $10 a jar, I try to use every bit of it the few times of year we indulge. A cheaper version of the fish with smoked paprika, garlic, and vinegar is in the works but is not ready for publication.
Like its imaginary parent couscous, quinoa seems to be a very forgiving grain–that, or I’m cooking it badly but liking it anyway. The basic cooking method is two parts water to one part quinoa. You put it in a saucepan, cover, bring to boil, then simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes. Taking the lid off and checking it on occasion does not seem to hurt it, nor does my occasional obsessive-compulsive stirring. The instructions on our bag tell you it’s done when “a white spiral-like thread appears on each grain,” and they also suggest toasting the seeds in a dry skillet before cooking to bring out the nutty flavor. I tried both the toasting and the non-toasting methods and was fine either way. The recipe below omits the pre-toasting.
Quinoa also appears to be a versatile grain, capable of functioning as a breakfast cereal with fruit and nuts or as a vegetable side dish, but not being breakfast eaters we’ve tried only the latter. My favorite has been the recipe below, which is a heavily modified version of the one on the back of the bag. This makes a gentle and unassuming side dish; in fact, if your favorite chicken soup could be transformed into a solid, this would be it. (The chicken broth helps.) It’s a nice accompaniment to just about any basic dish, from roast chicken to broiled fish to pork chops.
Quinoa is an outcast no longer.
Quinoa with Carrots, Celery, and Onion
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 tablespoon oil (olive or vegetable)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and minced
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 tbsp. thyme or herbes de Provence
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups homemade chicken or turkey broth
Salt to taste
Heat oil in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots, celery, and thyme and saute until just tender, about 5 – 10 minutes. Add quinoa, water, and salt and stir. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until water has evaporated and quinoa is fluffy, with white spiral-like threads on each grain.