Today’s recipe was a first for me. I have had quinoa (keen-wah) before, but always the pale creamy type. This time I used black quinoa because I love the dramatic color – I hope you do too!
Quinoa is a fascinating grain. Naturally gluten-free, it is a fantastic alternative for those of us who have to avoid wheat. Technically it is seeds of a plant similar to spinach and Swiss chard and is native to the Andes in South America. Thankfully it also grows well in the Colorado Rockies, giving us easier access to this amazing food source.
Quinoa has a lovely nutty flavor that is enhanced by cooking it in stock and seasoned with aromatics such as onions, garlic, and shallots. It has an interesting combination of textures because the center softens while the exterior remains slightly crunchy. It can be served as a side dish to any grilled or sauteed meats or as a vegetarian main course (if you leave out the pancetta).
Because of its high fat content, always store quinoa in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It is naturally rich in protein, amino acids, potassium, iron and other vitamins and minerals. It comes in a variety of colors including white, yellow, red, brown, and black. They are all similar in flavor and texture so it is more about aesthetics and availability when you buy one over the other.
Make sure you rinse it very well before cooking. Quinoa grows with a bitter coating that is easily removed by rinsing in fresh water. Place it in a fine mesh strainer and run the water through it until it runs clear. You can then boil it or for a roasted flavor, place them in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes until lightly toasted.
While most recipes tell you to cook quinoa for 15 minutes, it took my batch nearly 45 minutes to fully absorb all the liquid. It turns out that the recipe I was working from had a much higher ratio of liquid to quinoa. Remember that recipes are guidelines and not written in stone. Feel free to adapt them, substituting ingredients that you prefer, and cooked the way you like.
Pancetta is the Italian version of bacon, but without the smokiness. You can certainly use bacon if you prefer or if that is what you have on hand. And of course if you don’t want to include it, are looking for a vegetarian or vegan recipe, or don’t have it on hand, go ahead and leave it out. No harm, no foul.
I hope you give quinoa a try. It is a great alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta, etc. and is much healthier for you.
Here’s to a healthy and happy 2013!!!
This dish is naturally gluten-free, but always check the labels for possible harmful ingredients, especially in the stock.
Quinoa with Pancetta, Sliced Almonds and Thyme
Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Yield: 4 servings
This dish is suitable as a side dish or a healthy entrée and is naturally gluten-free. It is good alongside any roasted or grilled meats, or as a base for poached eggs. If you want to make this vegetarian/vegan, use vegetable stock, leave out the pancetta, and add an additional 1 tbsp of olive oil.
1 cup slivered almonds
1 tsp organic olive oil
3 to 4 oz pancetta (or bacon), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tbsp minced fresh chives or additional fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the almonds in a single layer in a shallow dish such as a pie plate. Toast in the oven until lightly golden brown, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the oil and pancetta in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the fat has rendered and the pieces become lightly crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the minced shallot and let cook 1 minute or until just softened, stirring often. Add the quinoa and thyme, tossing until the quinoa is coated with the oil; cook another 30 seconds.
Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low, keeping the liquid at a slow simmer. Cook until the stock has been absorbed, about 15 minutes depending on the type of quinoa you choose (follow package directions for best results). Use a heatproof silicone spatula and drag it through the quinoa, creating a moat. If any liquid flows into the open area, continue cooking.
Move the saucepan off the heat and let stand, covered and undisturbed, for 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs (if you used fresh thyme) and fluff the quinoa with two forks. Stir in half the chives and half the toasted almonds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer to individual serving bowls, sprinkle each with some of the remaining chives (or thyme) and almonds, and serve.
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