Quinoa (keen-wah) is one of those scary things that was introduced to me through health food stores. I somehow found it guilty-by-association for sitting next to even scarier things like tempeh on the salad bar at Whole Foods and for being featured in books that I hope to God I never have to read, like "Recipes for IBS" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet." I overlooked quinoa's bad reputation a few years back when I realized that I would never in my life be able to cook a pot of rice and needed a substitute. Now I actually like to think of it as another type of rice (although technically it is not): it's a grain, you boil it in liquid to cook and you eat it in burritos. No big deal. Not so scary after all.
You can't neglect the fact that quinoa is crazy healthy, but that doesn't exclude it from also being crazy delicious. It comes down to execution, so think of it as you do other healthy foods. Store-bought tomato juice? Vile. Fresh tomatoes on a margherita pizza? Unbeatable. Mushy, overcooked, oversweetened baked apples? Absolutely not. Homemade apple pie with crispy, flaky crust? Yes, please! But while we're on the subject of nutrition, you should know: according to Self Nutrition Data, quinoa is a good source of iron, fiber, protein, magnesium, thiamin, folate, riboflavin and vitamin b6- all stuff your body really needs.
Here are a few things to remember when cooking with quinoa:
1. Never cook quinoa in water, always use good quality, low-sodium vegetable stock. This brings out the nutty flavor of the quinoa and will prevent it from tasting bland.
2. Cook quinoa as you would risotto. Place quinoa into a cold pot and cover with vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat and add more stock as needed. You will know the quinoa is done when the little kernels burst. It usually takes 15-20 minutes.
3. Quinoa is best when fluffy. When your quinoa is done cooking, add just a bit of butter to keep the pieces from sticking together. If you're making enough quinoa for the week, let it cool completely before putting it in the fridge. Run a fork though it a few times before reheating.
I call this "all-purpose" quinoa salad because it is so incredibly versatile. It can be served hot or cold. You can eat it as a side dish or turn it into a main by adding your favorite fish or chicken. One recipe makes boo-coos of salad, which is great because it keeps well and can be used in a number of different ways throughout the week. I ate it in burritos with spinach, goat cheese and black beans, in tacos with slices of avocado and a drizzle of crema and on top of spinach salad with creamy cilantro lime dressing.
1 cup dry quinoa
low-sodium vegetable stock (about 2 cups)
1T vegetable oil
6 medium carrots, cut into a large dice
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup red onions, diced
1 1/4 cup roasted beets, cut into a large dice*
3T chopped cilantro
lime juice to taste (start with the juice of two limes)
Place quinoa in a cold pot with a pinch (1/4t) kosher salt and cover with vegetable stock. Turn stove to medium-high and bring to a boil. Add more vegetable stock as needed until quinoa kernels burst. Meanwhile, heat 1T vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high and cook carrots with a pinch of kosher salt for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pan and cook until garlic is soft and fragrant and carrots are just starting to brown around the edges. When quinoa is done and still hot, add butter, carrots and garlic, and red onion. When the mixture has cooled, add beets, cilantro and lime juice. Add salt to taste.
* You can buy pre-cooked beets at stores like Trader Joe's. If you'd like to cook beets at home, I recommend buying beets that are on the smaller side so that they roast faster. You can read about how to roast beets here.
Note: This is a recipe that is very easily altered. You can use parsnips instead of carrots, shallots or green onions instead of red onions, parsley instead of cilantro, or lemon juice instead of lime juice and any color of beet you can find. Use what you have on hand and get creative!
Try tossing a salad with creamy cilantro lime dressing (recipe follows) and top with a big scoop of all-purpose quinoa salad and a little bit of queso fresco for a healthy lunch.
Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing
7oz Greek yogurt
2t white balsamic vinegar
1-2 T fresh lime juice (start with 1T and add more if needed)
2T fresh chopped cilantro
1t very finely chopped red onion
1/4 t grated garlic
1/8 t kosher salt
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
P.S. One more! Put quinoa salad in tacos with pan-fried fish and drizzle creamy cilantro lime dressing on top. Amazing.
By the way, I had the good fortune of being able to shoot this dish in my parents' kitchen, which is full of some of the best props you could ever imagine- from elk antlers to crystal cocktail glasses. So if you've ever been on Ebay, Etsy or in a thrift store and couldn't find any vintage white plates or sterling plated flatware, it's because my Mom bought them all.