This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Salad, re-introduced me to Quinoa, which I've only had once or twice in the past. Pronounced keh-NO-ah, or sometimes KEEN-wah, it is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds, and native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. Although most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually related to leafy green vegetables like beet, spinach and Swiss chard. The Incas held the crop to be sacred, and referred to it as the mother of all grains and gold of the Incas. It was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using golden implements. To this day, it is an important food in South American cuisine.
In the 1980s, two Americans began cultivating it in Colorado. Since then, quinoa has become more and more available as people realize it is an exceptionally beneficial and delicious food. When NASA scientists were searching for an ideal food for long-term human space missions, they declared quinoa unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients.
|Photo from BYU College of Life Sciences|
Cooked quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy, yet slightly crunchy, and have a delicate, somewhat nutty flavor. While the most popular type of quinoa is a transparent yellow color, other varieties feature colors such as orange, pink, red, purple or black.
|Organic Red Royal Quinoa from our local Boney's|
In its natural state, quinoa seeds have a coating of bitter-tasting soapy saponins to protect against birds and other predators. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this coating, but it is still a good idea to thoroughly rinse the seeds to remove any remaining saponin residue before cooking. In South America, the saponin removed from the quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.
To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking. Simply place it in a skillet over medium-low heat, and stir constantly for five minutes.
Dorie's Quinoa, Fruit and Nut Salad calls for your choice of various dried fruits, nuts, herbs and greens. She adds a touch of ground ginger to the lemon juice and olive oil dressing, and tops the quinoa with yogurt. I went more savory with ours, using toasted almonds, fresh orange supremes, asparagus, spinach, and parsley, and served it with pan-grilled lamb chops and harissa sauce, a recipe from Tyler's Ultimate: Brilliant Simple Food to Make Any Time (recipe also here, and another version of harissa here).
Quinoa, Asparagus, Orange and Almond Salad
Adapted from Quinoa, Fruit and Nut Salad
1 cup red quinoa
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups water
Supremes from 2 oranges
1 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted
6 ounces fresh asparagus, sliced diagonally into 2 inch pieces, and blanched
6 ounces baby spinach, sauteed briefly in a tablespoon of olive oil so it's slightly wilted
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 shallot, minced3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Place quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer, and run cold water over it while gently rubbing the seeds together with your hands, to thoroughly rinse off any residual saponin.
Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan, salt the water, and add the quinoa. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 12-15 minutes.
While quinoa is cooking, make the dressing by whisking lemon juice, shallots, parsley, olive oil, and walnut oil together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the quinoa in a sieve and transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool slightly. Add the orange supremes, almonds, asparagus, spinach and dressing. Toss gently, and serve.
We love the texture of the quinoa, its nutty taste, and versatility in mixing in various fruit, nut and vegetable combinations. I am looking forward to trying it Dorie's way, with dried fruits, ginger and yogurt.
French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. Dorie always tells a personal story behind each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing.