Friday, January 15, 2010

Mmm, quinoa!

Okay, I know there are a lot of us out there who are saying "Quinoa? What's that?" You might even be trying to figure out how to pronounce it, I know I was at first. Well, I'm going to attempt to iron a lot of that out today.

I had no idea of what I would post next or when I was going to do it. Then, I received a call from my friend, Lunise, yesterday afternoon to hang out for a little while. I was only there for a few minutes when she mentioned that she was hungry, as was I, since I skipped breakfast that morning (big no-no!). In the midst of pondering how exactly we were going to stuff our gullets, Lunise threw her arms up and said "I know, we can have quinoa!" It took me a second to process what she was saying because I'd never heard the pronunciation before, but it set in eventually. I reminded me that I needed to do a lot more research on this tasty little grain that had never touched my lips till that afternoon.

I'm about to fast forward for a second. When I got home, I decided to to my homework. One of the first things I wanted to know was how to pronounce it correctly. I heard Lunise say "keen-wah," while I'd only heard "keen-o-uh." Well, my good friends at showed that we were both right. Who knew? With that confusion cleared up, it was time to do more digging. I found a page titled "All About Quinoa, " so how could I not click? Karen Railey, the author, provided a wealth of information that I never knew. I was familiar with its history with the Incas and that it's grown in the United States, too, but there were lots of other cool tidbits that were there. Turns out that quinoa isn't a grain at all, but actually the seed of a plant called Chenopodium. In fact, the plant has way more in common with beets, spinach, and Swiss chard, and its leaves are also edible. Quinoa can be cooked in just about any way imaginable: boiled, roasted, popped, in salads, in place of rice, in casseroles, as a cold cereal, you name it. Did I mention that it's also super-nutritious? It's chock-full of all kinds of vitamins, minerals, protein, and amino acids. What can I say, it's a super-seed that more of us should definitely be shoveling down our throats, and when you prepare it the way Lunise and I did, that'll be quite the tasty task. To read more about the quinoa plant, you can go to the site that I visited:

So, what exactly did we do? Well, it's important to rinse the seeds first to get rid of this soapy substance called saponin, that, while nontoxic, can leave a bitter tasting pot of sadness, and we don't want that. Then, we commenced to using the 2:1 ratio, which means that we used twice as much liquid as we did seeds, just like when cooking rice on the stovetop. Here's recipe that was used:

4 cups water
2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1/8 tsp salt
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp vegetable/olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 leaves rainbow chard
8 oz. (half a block) firm tofu, drained and cubed
1/8 tsp each of cumin, cayenne pepper, and seasoned salt

Tofu marinade (optional):
1/4 cup soy sauce
dash of cumin, cayenne, and seasoned salt

I'm going to dictate the preparation directions as if we did them in the right order, because, to be honest, we just threw the stuff in and made it work deliciously. However, I realize that not everyone can do that and I'll break it down in orderly steps for sanity's sake.

Add salt to the water and bring it to a boil. Add the quinoa, bring to a boil, then simmer the covered pot until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Right before closing the lid to simmer, add the garlic and teriyaki sauce to the pot and stir thoroughly. Allow at least 15 minutes for cooking time. To a wok or cast-iron skillet, add the vegetables to the hot oil and sautee for 2 minutes. At this point, add the tofu (and its marinade, if you chose to do so), and cook for 1 minute before incorporating the quinoa into the pan. After getting all the ingredients well mixed together, add the spices, adjusting according to personal taste. Don't be afraid to add an extra bit of water or a touch of water if you feel the quinoa is too dry while stirring.

This dish can be eaten as a meal and serves 4 non-starving people. We were famished, so we ate everything except a half-cup of the contents of the pan, but we were certainly stuffed afterwards! A few things that I want to mention: I like to marinade tofu first before adding it to a recipe in a bit of soy and a pinch of the spices used in the recipe so that the flavor is already infused into the cubes, which is achieved after only 30 minutes. If you prefer your tofu to be a little bit more on the bland side, the marinade is not necessary. Also, never be a slave to a recipe. If you feel that a dish needs a little extra something, add it. If you don't feel an ingredient is needed, exclude it. Always remember to taste the food before serving it to others so that you can confidently serve plenty of plates of tastiness. Enjoy, and thanks for showing me something new, Lunise!

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