Quinoa. It's a South American grain-like crop that has come to be recognized as a nutrient-dense superfood, and it's all the rage right now. The seeds, or "grains" (quinoa is not a true cereal, though its seeds resemble and are similarly used like grains), of the plant can be found at most supermarkets, and it can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, and even popped.
If you've never cooked with it before, here are a couple tips: Rinse the grains under running water; they are coated with saponins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using. For extra depth of flavor, try toasting the quinoa before cooking it. After rinsing the grains, dry them in a towel, then toast them briefly in a dry skillet until they color slightly and have a nutty aroma.
To cook, place the rinsed grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish. Check out some of our recipe suggestions below.
Try quinoa in a salad: Dark green julienned strips of kale are tossed with nutty quinoa and sunflower seeds, colorful bell pepper and red grapes, then dressed with a bright champagne vinaigrette. Parmigiano and manchego cheese lend a subtle richness; the preserved lemon strips add a nice salty tang. The salad comes together in under an hour.
Looking for a more robust dish that is still vegetarian? Try this combination of quinoa, meaty shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and crunchy toasted cashews. Sound good? These flavors come together in perfect harmony in this salad, which can be dinner tonight in less than an hour.
For something a little different, try this vibrant red salad from M Cafe. It's bright, refreshing and filling if you're looking for something on the lighter side. Oh, and it's vegan. Quinoa is cooked with finely diced beets, which tint the grain a vibrant shade of red. Cool the quinoa, then add cucumber, lemon zest and herbs and toss the salad with a tangy fresh vinaigrette. The recipe does require a little forethought when it comes to ingredients and a shopping list (you'll need to buy umeboshi vinegar -- available at select gourmet and Asian markets). And you might as well shop for extra of everything -- yeah, this salad is good enough you'll probably want a double batch.
For more easy dinner recipes, click through our photo gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LA GRANDE ORANGE CAFE'S KALE AND QUINOA SALAD
Total time: 50 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4
Note: Adapted from La Grande Orange Cafe in Pasadena. Preserved lemons can be found at select well-stocked grocery stores as well as at cooking and gourmet markets.
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon chopped chervil
Ground black pepper, to taste