Vegetable and Herb Quinoa

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Alright, so maybe this trendy grain isn’t the most glamorous-looking food but it’s quick, gluten-free, uber healthy and loaded with protein. I’ve been mildly obsessed lately with this curious little grain called ‘quinoa’ so, naturally, I had to share this recipe with you.

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So what is quinoa [keen•wah] you ask? For starters, it’s the new kid on the block. It seems to be turning up in recipes everywhere – whether it be served as a salad, or added to a salad, in a stew, as a side dish (in place of rice), or even as part of an entrée. It’s an ancient grain which is nutty in taste with a soft yet slightly crunchy texture. Its flavour is inherently flat with a mild nutty tone, so it begs to be mixed with lots of fragrant and delicious ingredients to permeate the quinoa and flavour it. It is equally delicious served warm or cold. 

Consider this your basic introduction to quinoa if you’ve never cooked it before. It’s a simple bare-bones recipe. Once you’ve honed your quinoa-making skills and tempered your palette in favour of this delicious little superfood, you can add beans, feta cheese, butternut squash (heaven!) or even protein (chicken, etc.). I’ve even added 1/4 cup of toasted almonds for some added texture and flavour to this recipe in the past. For a deeper, nuttier flavour, you can also roast the quinoa in a dry skillet for five minutes before cooking it but if you’re a quinoa rookie, start with this basic recipe to get a taste for it then you can go on to add just about any ingredient that tickles your fancy.

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If you’re unfamiliar with quinoa, here is some helpful Q & A:
Do you have to store quinoa in the refrigerator? It stores easily in an airtight container in a dry kitchen cabinet and won’t turn rancid quickly. Its shelf life is at least a year.
Do you have to wash/rinse the quinoa before cooking? In its natural state, quinoa has a bitter-tasting coating on each seed, called saponin, which protects it from being eaten by birds. Historically, the seeds need to be soaked to remove this coating before cooking and eating it. Today, the pre-washing of the seeds before packaging is quite thorough, so all you have to do is give the quinoa a quick rinse for good measure. 

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This recipe has deliciously bright citrus notes from the lemons that are used in it. I’d hate to cover that up with a heavy, densely-flavoured olive oil, so I always opt to use a light-tasting olive oil when making quinoa so as not to overpower the flavours of the lemon and the herbs. 

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DSC_0183 DSC_0152 DSC_0159Don’t write off this recipe if you don’t have chicken stock on hand. You can just as easily boil the quinoa in water, and I have on many occasions. Remember to cook the quinoa just until the grains are only slightly crunchy but to the point where they clump together. Be careful, it can easily turn to mush if cooked too long. And always remember to ‘fluff’ the quinoa with a fork rather than mix it with a spoon (very much like how you would handle a bread stuffing.)

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1 cup     dried quinoa
2 cups     chicken stock (or water)
2 tablespoons (30 ml)     light tasting olive oil
1 medium     onion
3 cloves     garlic
1 large     tomato
zest of 1/2 medium lemon
juice of 1/2 medium lemon
1/4 cup     fresh basil, minced (from a large handful of leaves)
1/4 cup     fresh mint, minced (from a large handful of leaves)
1 teaspoon     salt
1/2 teaspoon     freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon     sugar
1/4 teaspoon     crushed chili flakes

Wash the quinoa in a sieve and add to a pot along with the chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the stock is completely absorbed into the quinoa and the curlicues (springly little curls) have emerged from the seeds and popped out. If necessary, add a few splashes of water and cook for another 2–3 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, basil, mint, salt, pepper, sugar and crushed chili flakes. Set aside. 

Heat the olive oil in a saucepot over medium heat.  Dice the onions and mince the garlic cloves. Add them to the pot and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until tender. Dice the tomatoes and add them and the cooked quinoa to the pot and fluff gently with a fork, to combine. Remove the pot from the heat. Drizzle the dressing over the quinoa mixture and fluff with a fork until it is completely combined. Be careful not to use a heavy hand when mixing, or your quinoa will turn to mush. Serve warm as a side dish or cold as a salad. 

Yields: 4 side dish servings or 2 salad servings 

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