I know that I am only the most recent in an awfully long line of people to discover quinoa, but I'm really quite excited about it! It is a grain that I have heard about for years, but never really gotten around to trying. Occasionally I would see it on a menu, but it somehow never managed to be paired with whatever I was in the mood for, or there was an ingredient listed that I didn't care for. In my quest for new side dishes and new salads - always a favourite hunt for the summer picnic table - and with my current trend away from most forms of refined flours and sugars, I decided that I needed to explore some of the alternative grains and seeds whose names were floating around in the back of my head.
I went hunting online for recipes, and there were certainly plenty to choose from! Quinoa as breakfast (in hot-cereal mode), quinoa as pilaf, quinoa as salad, and quinoa as curry, just to name a few. While the curry idea definitely piqued my interest, I thought that perhaps I should start off a little on the safe side, and simply substitute the main component in an already-popular salad (in our house, anyway), with quinoa.
This recipe for Couscous Salad is an outgrowth of Middle-Eastern tabbouleh, a parsley-rich dish usually made with bulgar wheat, and seasoned generously with lemon juice to give it some zing. While I am a big fan of tabblouleh, as well, I developed this recipe initially with couscous to speed up the prep time, provide a softer texture, and incorporate more vegetables. Changing back to a grain (quinoa - technically a seed, in fact) from a pasta (couscous) improves the nutritonal profile pretty tremendously, but mostly because, as it turns out, quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse! Not only is it protein-rich (although I include a little feta in my salad, which adds to the protein, also), but quinoa is also a good source of amino acids, dietary fibre, magnesium, iron, and is gluten-free.
My biggest hesitation, standing in front of the bulk-foods cannister, staring at the organic quinoa in front of me, was that I didn't have a clue how to cook it. A little online research solved that problem, too. It turns out, quinoa cooks a lot like white rice. So, with a shrug and a smile, I popped my well-rinsed purchase into the rice-cooker (a Tiger, if it makes a difference) with the same ratio of water as for basmati rice (my standard, go-to rice), set the program for "quick" white rice - laughably, about 40 minutes instead of the "usual" 48 minutes - to skip the initial soaking period that I wasn't sure was necessary for quinoa, and waited.
The quinoa cooked up just as I had hoped. Fluffy, tender, with its little spiral of bran arching delicately away from each grain. The flavour, since I couldn't resist trying it straight up, was nutty and complex, and unlike anything else I have ever had. It had a familiar-tasting quality that I am still trying to identify, but was wholly new-tasting at the same time. Still, it was very much a base-flavour, and it took in the seasoning that I usually put in the Couscous Salad beautifully.
I'm looking forward to trying other grains and seeds - perhaps amaranth will be next - but I'm also quite excited to try a curried quinoa dish - either as a hot side or a cold salad. And, of course, hot, plain quinoa would be a fabulous base for a wonderful vegetarian curry, all chock full of farmers' market-fresh goodness.