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FEATURE: COOKING LOCAL QUINOA SALADS

January 29, 2009


            Welcome back to the kitchen. This week I’m inspired to share some recipes I originally learned from a friend who was on a whole grains diet. While that might not sound that exciting to you off the bat, whole grains are a great way to improve your diet and your health simultaneously.

            Whole grains will leave you feeling more full and satisfied than the processed foods we’ve become accustomed to. Some of the more documented health benefits associated with whole grains are a reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

            I recommend trying to cook with some raw whole grains of your own, because identifying products that are actually made with whole grains can be tricky. Take bread, for example. According to labeling rules, If two ingredients are listed as grain products but only the second is listed as whole grain, the entire product may contain between 1% and 49% whole grain. Many types of bread are colored brown (often with molasses) and made to look like whole grain, but are not.

            So if we cook for ourselves using whole grains like amaranth, barley, millet, or unprocessed oats, know we are getting the best nutrients from our food. The problem, however, is one of convenience. Most whole grains take significantly longer to cook, because it takes awhile for them to get tender than their processed counterparts.

            But that’s no problem for today’s featured ingredient, my favorite whole grain quinoa [KEEN-wah]. This wunder-grain originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for some 6,000 years. It is delicious, has lots of vitamins, and particularly high in protein (especially for a grain). Also, quinoa is gluten-free and therefore easy to digest.

            Blah blah, all that is really beside the point for me. Quinoa cooks faster than rice, and has a delicious nutty taste. When cooked correctly, each little grain has a nice pop, making for a great texture. Think ok using hot quinoa for any weeknight stir fry or curry. Some people make a sweet a fruity breakfast quinoa.

            Today, however, we’re going to use this great grain for a couple different salads. First, we’ll use quinoa to replace bulger wheat in a fresh and tangy tabbouleh salad. We can use that as a base for a variety of middle eastern dishes, simply by adding some feta cheese and olives and some roasted or grilled vegetables.

            Second, we’ll make a sweet and spicy quinoa salad with curry chicken and golden raisins. This one makes a great lunch meal all on its own, or could be a side dish for dinner with some hearty squash stew.

           

            So, getting started with the quinoa tabbouleh. We’re going to need lot of fresh parsley for this, which we can keep growing all year long on an insulated sun porch or cold frame greenhouse. We’ll also make use of the seasonal, if not local abundance of fresh lemons and limes.

            For the tabbouleh we’ll need:

-1 cup quinoa (white, red, or whatever variety you can find)

-2 cups water

-one or two ripe tomatoes, diced

-half a cucumber, diced (seeded and peeled if you’re picky)

-at least one cup of fresh parsley, chopped up fine

-about ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped up with the parsley

-the juice of 1-2 fresh lemons or limes

-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

-salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

-1 cup crumbles feta cheese (optional)

-other optional ingredients include sliced olives, diced red peppers, or green onions.

 

            Quinoa can be found at most markets these days, but you might have to ask. To find it, it’s important to know how to spell it: q-u-i-n-o-a, it looks likes it would be pronounced [KWEE-noa]. We’ll cook up a batch basically like rice, using the tried and true ratio of 2 cups of water for every cup of dry quinoa.

            Bring 2 cups of water to a boil for every one cup of rinsed quinoa, then immediately turn down to low and cook, covered tightly , for about 8-12 minutes until the liquids are absorbed, and depending how al dente you like it. Once the quinoa is cooked, set it aside so it can cool for our salads.

            Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to the bottom of a bowl and whisk until the dressing is emulsified. Chop up the herbs and all of the veggies and add them to the bowl along with the cooled quinoa. Mix the tabbouleh all around and ideally let the flavors absorb for a little while before serving. Top with the crumbled feta cheese before serving.

            So there you have it, a quick and easy tabbouleh salad that goes great with hummus and pita or any other Middle Eastern inspired meal. It’s faster and has more protein and flavor than the original!

 

            Ok, now lets move right along to our curried chicken quinoa salad. For this we’ll need:

 

-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

-4 cups cooked quinoa

-2 stalks of celery, chopped

-1 small apple, seeded and chopped up small

-one carrot, grated

-one green onion, chopped up tiny so its not too strong

-1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped up fine

-1/2 cup golden raisins

-1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

-1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice

-1/2 teaspoon curry powder

-one dollop low-fat mayonnaise and one dollop plain yogurt

-salt and pepper to taste

-a dash of garlic powder

-one tablespoon olive oil

 

            We’ll start out by preheating the oven to 375 and rubbing the chicken breasts in the olive oil. Place them in a non-stick baking pan and squeeze on a little lemon or lime. Shake on a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper, a little garlic powder, and a little pinch of the curry.

            Bake the chicken for about 15-20 minutes, turning once in the middle. It’s cooked when the juice runs clear. Take the chicken out of the oven to let it cool, then slice it up into little bite sized pieces.

            In a bowl mix together the rest of the lime juice with the mayo and yogurt, the chopped and grated veggies, the apples and raisins, almonds, and cilantro. Add the curry powder and taste. Spicy enough? If it’s too spicy, you could add a little bit of brown sugar to mellow it out a little.

            Toss in the cooled roasted chicken breast and the cooked quinoa and mix everything together. The tangy yogurt and lime should play nicely with the sweet apples and raisins, which in turn play off the spicy curry powder. If you prefer to keep this salad vegetarian, just leave out the chicken. The almonds and quinoa have lots of protein between them.

            I like to take this curried chicken salad and eat it in a pita pocket with sliced tomatoes and lettuce, and maybe a little bit of mango chutney. Delicious!

 

            Well friends, I hope I’ve inspired you to try making quinoa in your kitchen. This fast cooking, nutrient rich whole grain is a perfect pantry addition. Let me know what quinoa recipes you are experimenting with at www.kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.