ONE FOR THE TABLE: No longer just a fad, quinoa here to stay
Fruity Quinoa Stuffed Peppers. (Susan Russo / March 20, 2013)
Case in point: the Point Loma, Calif., Trader Joe's on a recent Sunday. As I was looking for some whole wheat couscous, I overheard the guy next to me say to his wife, "Hey, hon. Is this the keen-WAH you want?" He pronounced it perfectly, without the slightest hesitation. Of course, I had to look. No, he wasn't dressed in a chef's jacket and orange Crocs. In fact, he was a military guy -- there's a naval base in Point Loma -- tall and muscular with a crew cut. And his carriage had lots of red meat and eggs in it, not tofu or sprouts.
I couldn't help but think what a great poster child he would be for the Whole Grains Council. I suddenly envisioned the commercial: a buff Navy guy pushes away his breakfast Wheaties and eats a bowl of quinoa instead. Then the camera cuts to him commandeering a naval ship or jumping out of an aircraft into the ocean for a dramatic rescue. Then the voice-over says: Quinoa. The REAL breakfast of champions. Then it ends with the camera zooming in on the guy in his white sailor's uniform, which every woman in America will find both sexy and endearing. Oh, yeah, baby. This is golden.
What makes quinoa so special? Quinoa is high in complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. But don't eat it just because it's good for you; eat it because it's just plain good. Though quinoa is technically a seed, it is used as a grain. Cooked quinoa is delicately fluffy with a mildly nutty flavor and can be used in dishes ranging from salads and soups to cereals and stuffing.
My current favorite is today's recipe for healthy fruity quinoa stuffed peppers. I have made these stuffed peppers several times now, experimenting with different ingredients, and this version is the winner. Nutrient-rich colored bell peppers are the vessel for a flavorful and textured quinoa stuffing that is studded with chewy apricots, tangy cherries, and crunchy pistachios. Pair with side salad for a substantial vegetarian meal, or serve as a side dish with a chicken, pork, or seafood entree.
If the Whole Grains Council turns me down, I think I'll head straight to the naval base. After all, I just bought this adorable crisp white and navy sun dress that I'm just dying to wear.
Fruity Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Makes 4-6 servings
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling the stuffed peppers
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, diced
1/3 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
a generous amount of salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, cilantro, or parsley (my favorite is mint)
6 small (about 3-4 inches tall) or 4 large (about 5-6 inches tall) red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Pour the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve; rinse and drain. (This helps remove some slight natural bitterness from the grains). In a medium saucepan over high heat, add quinoa and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer, and cover until all of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. (If the water has evaporated before the quinoa is cooked, just add a bit more.) The quinoa will be done when the grains have turned partially white, and the spiral-like germ of the grain is visible. They should maintain a slight crunch when eaten. This will yield about 2 cups cooked quinoa.
In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add shallots and celery; saute 2-3 minutes, or until shallots are translucent. Add diced apricots and cherries, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add pistachios, cinnamon, ginger, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs. Stir together and heat through. Place in a large bowl.
Add cooked quinoa, and toss until well combined. Taste the stuffing and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Wash and dry the peppers. Using a pairing knife, remove the stem, core and seeds. Divide the stuffing equally among the peppers. Place stuffed peppers in a casserole or similar baking dish and drizzle the tops with 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until peppers are softened and wrinkly and a few brown spots appear on the skin. If the stuffing is browning too much, cover the tops of the peppers with a piece of aluminum foil. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, if desired.
(Susan Russo is a freelance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, Food Blogga. One for the Table is Amy Ephron's online magazine that specializes in food, politics, and love. http://www.oneforthetable.com)