‘Tis the season for grilling! During the summer months, the scent of charred meats and seared vegetables is in the air. You can see the smoke rise from the neighbor’s backyard and guess what’s for dinner. I love cooking on the grill; roasting corn in the husk, sliced zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper, and Lemon Basil Chicken are amongst my staples. But other grill masters may be more traditional; serving up hot dogs, hamburgers, and ribs, with mayonnaise-based side dishes like macaroni and potato salad. Due to my food intolerance issues and my vegan-ish ways (vegan being I don’t eat eggs or dairy, ish being that I while I don’t eat most meat, I still eat fish and chicken), eating at a barbeque that I am not hosting poses a challenge. So, whenever I am invited to someone’s house for a meal, I ask what I can bring. Lately, the usual answer is, “Bring what you can eat.” Great! I can make something for me so I don’t sit at a party without a plate, and maybe, I can introduce the other guests to a dish that they can serve to their vegan-ish friends. Enter my staple: Quinoa. It’s pronounced “keen-wah” and it is a versatile food. It is actually a seed, even though it cooks up and has the taste of a grain and it is gluten free. Although some find it a bit nutty, I find that it quickly takes on the flavors of the other ingredients when used in a recipe. Quinoa is high in protein, making it a perfect substitute for meat at a barbeque or any other meal. Even if you are an omnivore, there is room for quinoa in your diet.
Quinoa can be used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. I’ve tried a variation of hot cereal, cookies, veggie burgers, and pilafs. My favorite one is the one I started making a few years ago during the Jewish holiday of Passover. Quinoa is a seed, and is therefore kosher for Passover. But, the recipe is so delicious that I make it all year round. I didn’t have a name for it before writing this post, but it has a Mediterranean taste to it, so I will call it Sweet Mediterranean Quinoa. Mmm, sounds delish!
Sweet Mediterranean Quinoa
Serves 2 for a main course, four for a side course
2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
2 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 sweet potato, cooked
1/3 cup yellow raisins
1/3 cup pine nuts (or roasted pumpkin seeds)
1/3 cup sliced scallions
salt and pepper to taste
First, make your quinoa: Put it in a pot with your water or broth and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook the quinoa until all the liquid has been absorbed, mixing occasionally. Then set it aside, covered, until it reaches room temperature. This could take 2 hours. If you don’t have that kind of time, you don’t need to wait, but the dish will be more creamy if the quinoa isn’t cooled before mixing in the rest of the ingredients. When the quinoa is cooked, it swells and looks like it has grown a little tail. Here’s a closeup:
While the quinoa is cooking and then cooling, I assemble the dressing. I like to do this in the bowl I will serve it in so that I have less to wash, but feel free to use a smaller bowl and then add it to the quinoa. In the serving bowl, I put the honey, vinegar, oil cumin and cinnamon and whisk together. Once the quinoa is cool, you can break it up by using a whisk or a fork. Add it to the mixing bowl that has the dressing in the bottom and whisk it together until blended.
Then, toast the pine nuts. You can do this two ways: Put them in a pan and heat them, constantly mixing until they are light brown, or pop them into a toaster on a tray. But watch them, they can go from light brown to burnt beyond repair in a matter of seconds. Burnt pine nuts do not taste good. If that happens, start over!
Next comes the sweet potato. The sweet potato should be cooked and cooled. I usually cook mine in the microwave when I start the quinoa, giving it plenty of time to cool to room temperature. Peel the skin off of the cooked potato and cube it into 1/2-inch pieces.
Time to assemble your dish! Add the pine nuts, raisins and the sliced scallions to the quinoa and give a little whisk, then add the potato, but this time blend gently with a spoon so that the potato pieces don’t break. You can add salt and pepper to taste, but if you cooked your quinoa in broth, it may be salty enough, so taste before you shake!
Voila! Sweet Mediterranean Quinoa:
This recipe makes a lot of quinoa, probably enough to serve 6-12, depending on if it’s being used as a side dish or a main course. There are variations to it. Sometimes I add cannellini beans to bulk it up. Other times, I replace the pine nuts with slivered almonds (still toasting them) because pine nuts are expensive. Whether you are an old pro at cooking quinoa or have never tried it, I hope you will try making Sweet Mediterranean Quinoa. It has been a hit amongst vegans, vegetarians and omnivores at my barbeques, Passover seder table, and year round. Let me know what you think!