If you're like me, you love to try new foods. The funny thing is that quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is anything but new. In fact, it goes back to 3000 B.C. Apparently the Incas revered it.
I've been hearing about all the fabulous health benefits but hadn't gotten around to trying it. But don't let the healthiness scare you. It's fun food! It grows on a stalk and while we think of it as a grain, it's apparently the seed of a leafy green. It's loaded with protein, calcium, iron and vitamins. If you don't really care about that -- it's also quick and easy to fix.
I followed a recipe since I've never made it before. My red quinoa cooked in 15 minutes. It's tiny, maybe a little smaller than sesame seeds if they were round. When it cooks, it swells a bit and gets a little tiny curlicue on it -- tell me your kids won't love that! When you bite into it, there's the nicest little crunch. It would add great texture to a lot of dishes.
People describe it as nutty, but I think it has sort of a bland inoffensive flavor that picks up other flavors well, sort of the way rice does.
I ran across a fabulous recipe from the Fig Restaurant in Santa Monica. It's a vegetarian recipe, so I switched it up a little bit and replaced the butternut squash with shrimp.
I have to confess that I felt a bit plebeian when I made the recipe because they used haricots vert, which are wonderful, but impossible to get where I live, at least in March. Don't tell them, but I used frozen green beans. In addition, I used wildflower honey instead of orange blossom honey, and ordinary almonds. I couldn't duplicate all of their upscale ingredients, but it was delicious anyway.
This would be a wonderful go-to recipe for vegetarians. Possibly vegans, too, but there's honey in the dressing, and I'm never sure if vegans eat honey.
However, don't let the fact that it's a salad fool you. This is one hearty dish. It's not heavy at all, but unlike some salads, it doesn't leave you looking for something to nosh on later in the day. It's a meal in itself. The chef who put this recipe together must be amazing. The orange and honey dressing is the perfect sweet complement (it makes a lot, though, you'll have leftover dressing). The almonds add a nice crunch, and I know I'll be cooking more dishes with quinoa and apples because they go together beautifully.
I usually think of a salad as something I can put together fairly fast. This is a warm salad, with an interesting array of components, but it's not a quick fix. Don't try this on a day when you're in a hurry. The original recipe says it takes an hour to prepare, and I think that's accurate. With the original butternut squash or sweet potatoes instead of shrimp, it would be a wonderful meal for meatless Mondays!
Note: I used shrimp in this recipe, but since I wanted it to be more about the quinoa than the shrimp, I only used 16 medium shrimp. You might want to use larger shrimp or more of them, in which case I would recommend cooking them separately and combining with the salad when cooked.
I also suspect that the vinaigrette would make a fabulous marinade for chicken tenders that could be cooked on the grill and added to the salad.
Warm Quinoa Salad
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Bring the orange juice to a simmer and cook, simmering for about 15 minutes, until reduced to 2/3 cup.
When cool, whisk in the other ingredients and set aside. (Note: I only used about 1/3 of it on the salad, so you'll have plenty left over. Refrigerate the remainder.)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup green beans
1 apple, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups Swiss chard, roughly chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup red quinoa
1 2-inch sprig rosemary
3-4 tablespoons sliced or halved almonds
16 medium shrimp
salt and pepper
Cook the green beans (frozen work if you can't get them fresh) but don't overcook them. Make sure they're still nicely green.
Bring the stock to a boil and add the quinoa and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
In a medium pan, heat the canola oil and add the Swiss Chard, the apple, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper.
Saute about 5 minutes, until "crisp-tender," then add 1/4 cup vinaigrette and the shrimp, making sure the shrimp cooks through. Add the green beans and toss together.
Remove from stove and pour into a large bowl.
Drain the cooked quinoa, remove the rosemary, and add to the items in the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons almonds to the bowl, dress with additional vinaigrette (go easy), toss and add salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle onto plates and garnish with almonds.