Passover is in full swing and if you’re anything like me you’re getting mighty creative with your menu this week. Anything derived from the five major grains, plus rice and beans, are still off limits… which is problematic when your favorite pastime is baking and you love eating pasta. Add a vegetarian diet to the mix and hoo boy! Time to put my thinking cap on. Thank goodness for quinoa.
When I first heard about quinoa about two years ago I was like, “Keen what?” Then in typical curious fashion I determined to learn more about it – I couldn’t resist. You know how I am with food facts and history.
Pronounced “keen wha,” quinoa is a seed rich in amino acids with a fluffy texture and nutty flavor. Although many people think of it as a grain, technically it isn’t, which is why the Chicago Rabbinical Council approved it (in its pure form) as kosher for Passover. I don’t usually reference kashrut here, but odds are if I don’t mention it in this case someone is going to ask. So there it is.
Now for the fascinating bits of foodie lore I’ve learned since discovering quinoa: It hails from South America, where the Incas called it “chisaya mama,” meaning “mother of all grains.” It was considered so sacred that the emperor himself sowed the first seeds every year using golden tools reserved for the occasion. Quinoa played a significant role in ceremonial rites held before battles and warriors feasted on it, believing it increased their stamina. Turns out they were right because not only is quinoa a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, but it also has high amounts of the amino acid lysine. Lysine is crucial for tissue growth and repair – two things that would come in mighty handy on the battlefield wouldn’t you say? Sadly, during the European conquest of South America quinoa was disdained as “Indian food” and banned because of its significance to Incan culture. In other words, the conquistadors forbade the Incans from growing it.
Often called “the gold of the Incas,” quinoa isn’t as common in American kitchens as it should be. At least, that’s what I think. Nutritionally rich and quick to prepare, would you believe that the entire meal you see pictured above only took 25 minutes from start to finish? Believe it! After briefly cooking the diced onion I added the spices, broth, currants and other ingredients then left the quinoa to steam for 15 minutes while I prepared a spinach salad accented with fresh ginger, shallots, avocado and orange. I’m telling you, if you can make a pot of rice, you can make quinoa – the preparation is nearly identical. Passover or no, I love making these seeds into all manner of scrumptious dishes.
Kalyn recently showed me the Food Blog Search widget (now on the bottom of the left hand sidebar), so before I go here’s what some other bloggers have done with quinoa:
- Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa from 101 Cookbooks
- Quinoa Vegetable Paella from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
- Quinoa Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Parsley from The Perfect Pantry
- Lime Quinoa Salad with Mint from Karina’s Kitchen
Spiced Quinoa Timbales
Adapted from this Epicurious recipe
Note: Timbales are thimble or cone shaped molds used for various kinds of food. If you don’t have them you can use small ramekins or just serve the quinoa straight from the pan. The timables are just for presentation.
Ingredients: Serves 4-6
- 1 cup quinoa (small, flat, disk-shaped seeds, available at natural foods stores and many specialty foods shops)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, rounded
- 3 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup dried currants or raisins
- 1/4 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup goat cheese
Using a fine sieve, rinse the quinoa under cold water for about 1 minute. Drain well and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and pine nuts. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
Add the quinoa and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth, water, currants, tomatoes, and salt. Reduce the heat then cover the pot and simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed.
Remove from the heat and let the quinoa stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and goat cheese, then divide the quinoa mixture among 6 1/2-cup timbale molds that have been greased with PAM or another cooking spray. Pack the quinoa into each mold, then invert each timbale onto a plate and gently tap the sides to encourage the quinoa to slide out.
Avocado-Orange Spinach Salad
Adapted from this Epicurious recipe
Ingredients: Serves 4
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin oil
- 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon (generous) sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 navel orange
- 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves
- 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Sugar to taste
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and ginger, and cook, stirring constantly, until just fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the vinegar and sesame oil. Whisk to combine, then taste. Add salt and pepper, then taste again. If the mixture is a little sour add a pinch of sugar.
Cut off the peel and the white pith from the orange. Pull the orange apart into wedges. Pitt, peel and slice the avocado, then gently toss with about 1 teaspoon of lime juice (to prevent browning).
Add the spinach to the shallot mixture, tossing to coat. Then add the orange and avocado slices and toss gently.