Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dena's Quinoa Pilaf

First, a word about quinoa in case you've never heard of it (with thanks to South Beach Diet online for the following information):

Move over couscous — there's a new grain in town, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). Actually, quinoa isn't new at all — it's been grown for thousands of years in the Peruvian Andes and has been a staple in some South American diets for centuries. North Americans are just beginning to discover quinoa's unique nutritional makeup and versatility.

Quinoa grains are the seeds of a leafy, spinach-like plant. The Incas referred to quinoa as the "mother grain" because of its high protein content — the highest amongst the grains — and because it's a great source of vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium, the B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

Quinoa is as easy to make and use as rice, but cooks in half the time. To cook, rinse grains and combine one-and-three-quarters parts water with one part quinoa, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve it up as a side dish, as part of a one-pot meal, or as an addition to soups and stews. Any uncooked leftovers can be stored for several months in an airtight container.

Since quinoa is still relatively new to the American marketplace, at the moment you may only find it in specialty food stores or very large supermarkets. And though it can be expensive, keep in mind that besides its many nutritional benefits, it increases about three or four times in volume after cooking, which gives you more bang for your buck.

The recipe I like is below, but I also totally use it as a rice substitute on occasion.

Dena's Quinoa Pilaf

1 ¾ cups water or chicken stock
1 cup quinoa
½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small tomato
½ red onion
2 tsp white wine vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

(To turn it into a main course, I add sauteed veggie Italian sausage or diced chicken.)

Heat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse quinoa with a fine-mesh strainer.

Combine water (I use chicken stock to give it that nice rich flavor – low sodium and low fat, of course) and quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and place in a mixing bowl.

While quinoa is cooking, spread pistachios on a baking tray and bake until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool and roughly chop (I actually leave them whole).

Heat 1 tsp of oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red onion until they become fragrant and softened. Then add bell pepper, tomato, and scallion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add to quinoa, along with pistachios, vinegar, and remaining oil; stir to combine. If making it a main course, add protein. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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