Sunday, February 26, 2012

Keen-wa? Quinoa! Make it a salad...

Quinoa - just a few months ago I didn't know what it was.   Last spring, when the Food TV guys (oh how I love Iron Chef America and Chopped!  Yes, Giada, you, too...) threw the word "keen-wa" around for the several-hundredth time, I finally put the Q-word with it.  It does look like kwin-oh-ah...please tell me I'm not the only one...

Today - I turned this grain-like seed into a tasty side dish.

Quinoa is a "pseudocereal" rather than a true cereal or grain, because it's not a member of the grass family.  I'm not seeing the connection, but a little research tells me it bears a close relationship to beets, spinach, and...tumbleweeds!  But don't let that stop you.  The nutrient composition is excellent compared to common cereals - quinoa grains contain essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosporus, and iron.  Think of it as a healthier alternative to white rice.  It reminds us of one of our favorites:  risotto.

Cranberry-Orange Quinoa Salad

Bring 2 cups water and 1 cup quinoa to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender.  It's ready when little sprouts appear.  Scrape into a large bowl and cool til warm, about 20 minutes. 

After the quinoa has cooled, stir in a mixture of 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (toast them, if you like), 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries, 2 Tablespoons honey, 1 Tablespoon olive oil, and 2 Tablespoons lemon, orange, or lime juice

"Supreme" an orange or two - that's one step past "segmenting."  Neat trick, especially if you have family members who like the taste but prefer their segments naked!  (I do.)  Follow the easy video directions here or printed here if you haven't done that before.  I used one orange and wished I'd used two; the natural sweetness was a perfect contrast to the cranberries.

Cut the slices in half and add to the salad. Adding a chopped apple or two would be a great addition, as well - but I took my last apple to work last week for a snack!  Salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of feta cheese.

Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.  It was good at room temperature, but I think it will be even better tomorrow after a night in the fridge.   This is the first time I've tried making this, and we were just a bit hesitant at first.  After the second helping for each, we're sold on quinoa salad.

Now I'll leave it up to you to get creative.  Think of the options:
  • Use dried cranberries instead of fresh, or any dried fruit (like apricots!) - maybe cut the honey if you add a sweetened fruit
  • Make it Waldorf quinoa salad, with apple chunks, grapes, and pecans, seasoned lightly with a sweet, mayo-based waldorf dressing
  • Add  onion, celery, garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage - and golden raisins - for a delicious alternative to Thanksgiving dressing
  • Use red quinoa for a color change!
  • Green onions sprinkled on top...or parsley...or T's favorite: olives, of course!
  • Finely-chopped carrots...other cheeses...other types of nuts...cucumber bites..
No matter how you make it, this is a nutty, fresh alternative to heavy side dishes.  Enjoy experimenting - you know what you like!  I think I'll be making a quinoa-chicken casserole next time I decide to use it.  With fresh mushrooms...onions and green peppers...making it up as I go along.  I'll let you know how it turns out.