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Quick Fix: Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

by | May 18, 2009
Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Cinco de Mayo is one of my absolute favorite holidays. Half my family is Mexican, so I have memories of tacos and Coronas by the pool while basking in the first hints of summer sun. Good times!

Unfortunately this year I was too busy to even go out with friends for some real Mexican food (or at least San Francisco’s version of it). Instead I made a quick, healthy quinoa salad using Mexican herbs and spices to help me feel like I didn’t completely neglect my heritage.

You can find all these ingredients at your regular grocery store. I used arugula, but you can substitute spinach if you prefer. I also recommend being creative with your spices (jalepeño or cumin come to mind). If you have fresh salsa or pico de gallo around you can stir in a spoonful or two at the end to accentuate the Mexican flavor.

I recommend making extra so you have leftovers for lunch the next day!

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

(serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • Half bag of arugula or baby spinach
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 spring onion or shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Lime
  • Tapatio or favorite Mexican hot sauce

Rinse and cook quinoa. Crush and mince your garlic. While your quinoa is boiling, halve your tomatoes and dice your onion and pepper. If using a spring onion, save some of the green onion slices for garnish. Remove the stems from your cilantro. Dice your avocado and sprinkle it with salt.

When your quinoa is finished cooking, heat a frying pan on medium high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add onions and red peppers and cook on medium high heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat and add quinoa, stirring to mix. Fold in arugula or spinach and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Transfer quinoa mixture to a large serving bowl and add avocado, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze in juice of half a lime and add a few dashes of Tapatio or Tabasco to taste. Gently stir, being careful not to mash the avocado chunks.

Adjust salt and spices. Garnish with green onion slices, extra cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime.

Do you try to recreate nostalgic moments with certain spices and flavors?

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Healthy Lunch: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

by | Feb 6, 2009

If you really want to be healthy, you need to find a way to prepare most of your meals yourself. Eating out is fun and if you are careful you can avoid too much damage, but when you find yourself at restaurants multiple times per week chances are you will have a lot of trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

For many people, lunch on weekdays (at work) is one of the hardest meals to make healthy because bringing your own food requires planning and preparation, which is difficult on a busy schedule. There can also be powerful social pressures at the office to do what everyone else is doing, and that usually means hitting up the local restaurants.

I have combated this lunch issue with delicious food and a little planning. During the summer I make seasonal, fresh salads that are the envy of everyone at the office (aka lab). But since tomatoes and my other favorite salad treats are not available in the winter, I have been on a quest to find the perfect cold weather lunch.

Soup has been the winning ticket so far. The chicken chard soup I posted a few weeks ago was satisfying, delectable and lasted me the entire week. This past week I made red lentil Indian style soup following a recipe from Splendid Soups, my favorite soup cookbook (sorry, no post on this one).

This week I modified Mark Bittman’s Moroccan tagine recipe, skipping the chicken and adding some beautiful romanesco broccoli instead. A tagine is a thick and hearty Moroccan stew made with spices, chickpeas and dried fruit.

Normally a tagine is served with spiced couscous, but I didn’t have any so I used red quinoa I found at my corner market, Valencia Farmers Market (24th Street and Valencia). At first I was really mad at myself for forgetting I was out of couscous, but the red Inca quinoa was amazing and in the future I may actually prefer it for a lunch recipe like this.

Quinoa is substantially healthier than couscous, which is not whole grain.

Bittman’s recipe was quick and easy because I made the chickpeas the day before in my pressure cooker. It was simple and perfect for my lunch this week.

But if you want a tagine that is the real deal (harissa and all), I recommend the recipe from Splendid Soups.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head romanesco (or cauliflower)
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3 cups chickpeas, cooked (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 0.5 cup diced dried apricots (or golden raisins or dates)
  • 0.25 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bittman adds half a vanilla bean and cautions not to use extract. I didn’t have a vanilla bean so I just left it out. Also it appears I forgot to add the parsley. Feel free to use it as a garnish, I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

Saute onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until tender and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add romanesco pieces, salt and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas and dried fruit and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer. Taste and adjust salt. You can add 0.5 cup of water if necessary, but keep in mind a tagine should not be very fluid. Cover and allow to simmer 30 minutes, or until romanesco is tender. Stir occasionally.

While the tagine is simmering, rinse and cook quinoa according to the instructions on the box (takes 15 minutes). You can also toast your almonds during this time if you haven’t already. I tried to toast mine on a cookie sheet in the oven, but forgot about them (as usual) and they burnt. I toasted a new batch in a non-stick pan on the stove. Toast nuts on medium-low heat without oil, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. If you prefer to use the oven, set a timer!

To serve scoop half a cup of cooked quinoa into a bowl and cover generously with tagine. Tagine is very hearty, so an additional side dish is probably not necessary. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

This recipe has fed me 1 delicious meal per day for 4 days.

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Quinoa: Did You Know?

by | Nov 17, 2008

Quinoa is a seed plant common to the Andes of South America. Because it is not a grass, quinoa is not technically a cereal grain. For nutritional purposes, however, quinoa is considered a “whole grain” and is a fantastic alternative to rice.

Quinoa is rich in dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. But what makes quinoa stand out nutritionally is its protein content. Unlike most grains, quinoa contains a high percentage of the amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein.

A complete protein is a food that contains all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

If you are vegetarian, acquiring all the necessary amino acids from your diet is more difficult than if you eat meat occasionally, because plant proteins are usually deficient in one amino acid or another. For grains, the missing molecule is usually lysine. Quinoa’s high lysine content makes it a nutritional powerhouse for a grain, whether you are vegetarian or not.

Quinoa can be found at many grocery stores (e.g. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and frequently comes in a box. At some stores (e.g. Whole Foods) it can also be found in bulk.

Quinoa is much faster to prepare than other whole grains. As the New York Times recommends, I like to prepare it the same way I make rice. But it needs to be monitored more carefully, since it cooks much quicker. 10 minutes boiling should be sufficient.

I have not been able to find the red quinoa shown in the article. Let me know if you find it!

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Turkish Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Kale and Pomegranate

by | Nov 16, 2008

A couple weeks ago the New York Times health section featured several recipes using quinoa (keen-wah), a small, round ancient seed from Peru that can be used much like a cereal grain.

Because I had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make this recipe for Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices. I must admit, while it sounded good I did not expect to like it as much as I did.
I did not have an onion, but I had leeks so I used them instead. This made the recipe faster since leeks only require 1-2 minutes of cooking before additional ingredients are added.
Also, I do not have a spice grinder so I added slightly smaller amounts of already ground spices instead of toasting and grinding them myself. I just eye-balled the amounts using a teaspoon measure.
The recipe says that canned chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are fine, but I prefer to make my own. In my opinion, homemade beans are much better than canned. However, I have the luxury of having a pressure cooker in the house, which reduces cooking time for beans to about 25 minutes (including depressurization). Otherwise beans require at least an hour to cook. They also require several hours of soaking. Since beans are one of my most reliable and affordable protein sources, this process is worth it for me. If you would rather just crack open a can, that is your call.
Finally, I wanted a little more green in my meal so I steamed half a bunch of dinosaur kale. To prepare, I cut it up into bite sized pieces and steamed it for 8-10 minutes. I salted it then added it to the quinoa after I added the chickpeas. I strongly recommend adding kale if you plan to use this recipe as a main course. It was delicious!
Adaptation of New York Times Quinoa with Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices (with kale):
  • 1 teaspoon(ish) cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon(ish) coriander
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 c. dry)
  • 1 cup cooked chick peas (canned are fine), rinsed
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Rinse and chop kale and place in steam basket over shallow water. Cover and steam 8-10 minutes. This step is particularly important for dinosaur kale, which can be very tough. If you are using traditional kale, reduce cooking time accordingly. Cook until tender then sprinkle with sea salt.

Adjust a frying pan to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and salt, stir together for about half a minute, and stir in the cumin and coriander. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the quinoa, chick peas, kale and 3 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Taste and adjust salt.
Transfer to a platter or wide bowl and decorate with the remaining pomegranate seeds. You can also mold the pilaf into 1/2-cup ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate, then decorate with pomegranate seeds.
Leftover pilaf can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Picture above was after 3 days, and it was still beautiful. Only the pomegranate seeds started losing color after awhile, but they were still tasty. Reheat 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
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