The whole thing turned me off—the show, the preachy attitude… and her quinoa. But since I’m cutting back on meat these days, quinoa’s PR claim as “full protein” intrigued me. I did a quick google, and here’s what I found:
“The protein in quinoa is considered to be a complete protein due to the presence of all 8 essential amino acids. Some types of wheat come close to matching quinoa’s protein content, but grains such as barley, corn, and rice generally have less than half the protein of quinoa. Quinoa is 12% to 18% protein and four ounces a day (about 1/2-cup) will provide a child’s protein needs for one day.”
Having said that, people who have never tried quinoa will inevitably think: “Sure, it’s healthy but it must taste like cardboard and old shoe.” Can’t blame you. It seems like one of those too-good-to-be-true foods that you manage to choke down only by envisioning all the good things it’s doing to your body. But folks, I’m here to tell you—quinoa is delicious.
When I told my Aunt about my new love, she sent me a recipe for a Mexican quinoa salad. It sounded delicious, but I thought I could make it better with a few changes. I added a red pepper; I wanted some colour in there—as well as a non-starch vegetable. I also used water instead of chicken broth. With bland and tasteless grains like rice, chicken broth really adds much-needed flavour. (Though I’ve read some who say chicken broth masks the natural nutty flavors of quinoa.) I also added cilantro, because I think cilantro should be added to any dish with the word “Mexican” in it, and I upped the chili powder as I’m partial to a spicy dish.
What’s the Spanish word for “Winner”? This tastes amazing, it’s filling and by the way—I have lunch for the next two days.
My first experience with quinoa was back in 1987 when I was just starting out as the test cook at Cook’s Magazine. Florence Fabricant’s Pleasures of the Table: Innovative Menus for Entertaining, Easily Prepared Recipes, and the Wines to Serve with Them (now that’s a cookbook title, eh?) had just been published and Cook’s had scheduled her for an entertaining feature.
For some reason (likely publisher Chris Kimball trying to save $$$), I was selected to go to her home in the Hamptons and style the food. I’ve already admitted I’m not much of a baker, so I might as well make it two this week: I’m not much of a food stylist either.
To be fair, however, I wasn’t given much to work with. It was some Asiany-brown marinated fish steaks and a pale quinoa pilaf—hardly an exquisite pairing. I’m sure it tasted fine though I don’t remember her offering any. Maybe she was saving it for dinner. Maybe she wasn’t happy with my so-called styling. Probably both.
I remember the photo shoot was on Saturday morning, so we four hopped the Bridgeport ferry for a little Friday night adventure in the Hamptons. You must have been two and four at the time. I think Dad took you two to the beach and kept an eye out for Kurt Vonnegut, who was reportedly in the vicinity.
But enough of that reverie…. I was in Costco the other day and guess what they’ve just started selling in two-pound bags. I guess that means quinoa has finally gone mainstream.
I love your smart hybrid—part salad, part pilaf—a perfect three-season vegetarian main course or side dish. For summer’s dog days, consider the following option. Follow recipe for Quinoa Salad with Mexican Flavorings, omitting pepper and onion. Heat oil garlic, cumin, and chili powder until garlic starts to sizzle. Add quinoa, water, and salt and continue with recipe, cooking until water completely evaporates. Meanwhile, mix the corn, beans, 3 to 4 large scallions sliced thin, 1 jarred roasted red pepper cut in to small dice, 1 medium tomato cut into small dice, and the cilantro in a medium bowl. Stir in cooked quinoa, squeeze in lime juice to taste and additional salt, if necessary.
Move over, Mags, we’re sharing that seat on the quinoa train.
I have, thus far, been sort of vaguely interested in grains—the way that I am vaguely, fashionably interested in sustainability. If there’s an article on it in the dining section of the NY Times, or if one of my favorite food bloggers is writing about it, I’ll read it. I want to read it, so I’m in “the know.” But does that make me want to change my life? Not so much.
I have a passable knowledge of hearty grain counter-culture—certainly enough to get me through lunch table talk at Fine Cooking—but I have to admit that I vacillate between being incredulous that these odd grains can actually be transformed into something that doesn’t look, or taste, like bird seed and being jealous of people who take (or make) the time to cook with them.
Watching you experiment is changing that, Mags, more than big, beautiful photos of tasty looking dishes accompanying well-manicured text about the benefits of this wonder grain. Because although those articles with their stats and percentages can make me think for about 30 seconds that maybe, just maybe, I’ll make this (and the photos can make salivate ‘til the cows come home) they can’t convince me that a healthy dish featuring quinoa literally takes 15 minutes to make, and that the results are just delightful. The excitement in your voice the other day on the phone when you were telling me about this was better than any gospel of grains I could’ve read in a food magazine.
When Mom was home experimenting with your quinoa salad, I was lucky enough to be around to serve as a taster. I was plenty skeptical, but both versions are pretty wonderful. Maggy’s hangs together like something between risotto and rice pilaf loaded with chunky sweet corn and bell peppers. It almost felt like healthy, summertime comfort food. Mom’s is more like a grain salad, fluffier and looser, with a bright, acidic kick.
I’m converted…at least on quinoa. I’m still pretty agnostic on some of these other grains. Anyone for millet?
i love, love , love quinoa!!!!! i eat it several times a week. i am not a health food nut, nor am i a vegetarian! i ate it this morning hot with milk, raisins and honey for breakfast- deelish! i just discoverd your site via Ree! she hasn’t steered me wrong so far!