Apart from the ambiance and the company, I find that a memorable dining experience often brings a certain something unexpected. A Mediterranean sampling plate was served, as I was catching up with a friend over dinner at a local "Tavern". Apart from the usual trio of hummus (that itself was surprisingly unusual, with one carrying a green hue of edamame), I was inspired by a salad made with quinoa, a grain I love, but it has been a long while since its last escape from my pantry.
Quinoa is a relative newcomer to the American pantry. The tiny, ancient Peruvian seed, which has a mild, nutty flavor, is closer related to leafy green vegetables like spinach or beets than to a grain.
Quinoa is as versatile as rice but it has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa is a complete protein source containing a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans. Distinguished from most grain, quinoa is also gluten-free, making it an excellent alternative for individuals with gluten-sensitive enteropathy. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Its high iron content makes quinoa a favourable ingredient to be incorporated into diets of vegetarians and vegans.
Quinoa in its natural state has a coating of saponins, a bitter substance that protects them against birds and other predators, making it unpalatable. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this coating but it is important to rinse the seeds well prior cooking.
With a cooking time of 15 minutes, plus an internally integrated cooking timer (seeds display a little white thread that curls around them when cooked), there is no reason not to replace the bland quick-cooked white rice, with this light and fluffy super "grain"!
~ Chinese Five Spice Quinoa Pilaf ~
*The fragrant yet savoury Chinese Five Spiced powder, along with sweetness from the Hoisin sauce, complement the mild bitterness of quinoa.
1 cup quinoa
3 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Chinese five spiced powder
2 tbs Toasted sesame seeds
2 tbs Toasted sesame seed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 lb Asparagus, blanched and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 tbs Chinese Hoisin sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Serve with Szechuan Chili Bean Paste
1. Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse until the water runs clear.
2. Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and translucent, and each grain displays a little thread.
3. Drain and return to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean dish towel, replace the lid and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork.
4. Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat add oils, Chinese Five Spiced Powder and sesame seeds. Add the diced onion and garlic after the five spiced powder becomes fragrant, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the cooked quinoa, and asparagus over medium heat to heat through, several minutes.
6. Mix in the Hoisin sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste.