In Making Food on March 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Week 5

I don’t want to like quinoa. I really don’t. I’m tired of hearing about it, I’m tired of reading about it, I’m tired of seeing it in the pantry every morning when I reach around it for the granola.

Yeah, it’s in my pantry. It’s in my pantry because I bought it. I bought it because I succumbed to the recent “super-food” hype. Quinoa, a grain from the Andes that’s been cultivated for over 5,000 years, is a perfect protein with all nine essential amino acids. It’s actually got twice the protein of most other cereal grains, and it’s high in fiber. A good source of iron, calcium, niacin, thiamin, potassium, zinc, B6, manganese, copper, zinc, phosphorus, folate and magnesium, quinoa can do everything except your dishes. Google ‘quinoa’ and ‘healthy’, and you’ll get about four million results — including a bunch of articles and sites calling quinoa a “top-secret superfood.” (Googling ‘quinoa’ and ‘secret’ yielded 1.42 million results. Apparently quinoa-eaters are lousy confidants.)

So I bought it. And then I balked. Because everything and everyone everywhere kept telling me I had to try it. As with so many things that have come before it — learning to ride a bike, watching Star Wars, reading anything by Jane Austen — the constant exhortations to eat quinoa have only made me less likely to try it. A person can function perfectly well in this world without ever having to ride a bicycle; the same, incidentally, holds true for eating quinoa.

Further pitting me against quinoa are all the joyless, herb- and spice-less, oil- and salt-less recipes in which I see it. Five cups of quinoa and a teaspoon of thyme? A pound of quinoa, a bag of frozen corn kernels and a can of black beans? Pass.

But this blog has gotten me feeling a little repentant, and opportunistic, about quinoa. And my sister-in-law recently sent me a recipe for butternut squash, kale and quinoa salad. Plus The Husband said I couldn’t buy any new weirdo stuff until I used up the old weirdo stuff sitting in the pantry. And the freezer. Not because he’s a tyrant, but because he’s (understandably) tired of things cascading out of the freezer when he opens it (and also tired, no doubt, of having to shove them back in then slam the freezer door shut really fast). So quinoa was in the cards.

Operating on the assumption that I wouldn’t like the quinoa itself, I decided to stack the deck with things I love. I headed to the produce section intending to buy the aforementioned butternut squash and kale. But the kale was looking kind of picked over, and the squash was surprisingly expensive (and imported from Mexico). Then I saw the golden beets from a local farm in Wisconsin, complete with long stalks and leafy greens. I put them into my basket, along with some fresh goat cheese, a couple of shallots, and a bottle of rosé. And a couple of salmon steaks.

Back at home, I preheated the oven to 400, poured a glass of rosé, and got to work:

Cut the leafy stems off the beets (there were three in my bunch) and set the greens aside. Scrub the beets under cold running water to remove any sand, dirt, or grit, then peel them with a sharp paring knife. Cut the beets into half-inch cubes, then toss in a glass baking dish with some extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you’ve got any herbs on hand, you could chop those and throw them in; I had rosemary on hand. (I always have rosemary on hand.) But thyme or sage or marjoram would work here too. Put the beets in the preheated oven to roast, and drink some rosé until they’re fork-tender and starting to brown around the edges, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, put a cup of quinoa and two cups water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir once, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Also meanwhile, slice two shallots and/or mince a clove of garlic. Rinse the beet greens under cold running water to remove any sand and grit. Shake off the excess water, then trim away the stems and cut the leaves into rough slices. Heat a couple tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan and saute the shallots and garlic until fragrant and translucent, about two minutes. Add the greens, a handful at a time, stirring until they wilt and are tender, about five minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon juice.

Finally!: toss together the quinoa, roasted beets, and sauteed beet greens. Drizzle some olive oil and squeeze some lemon over the quinoa; add a dash of salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper, then taste. Trust your palate here; if it needs more depth, add more oil. If it needs brightness, add more lemon juice (or a splash of white wine vinegar).

Crumble some goat cheese (or feta, or queso fresco) on top, and for good measure, add a sprinkle or two of grated Parmesan. Taste again, adjust the salt and pepper, and serve. Preferably with salmon and rosé.

So: did I hate it? No.
Did I love it? No.
Did I like it? I’m not sure.

Quinoa’s got a slightly nutty, earthy taste that provided a subtle background behind the beets, greens and cheese. It didn’t offend but it didn’t inspire. If I were looking for a starch or grain on the plate, I’d probably be more likely to reach for rice, or even couscous — but it’s nice to have an alternative. Toasting it, or even sauteing it in olive oil, before cooking might deepen the flavor and make it more interesting. I’m also toying with the idea of trying it for breakfast the next time I don’t feel like waiting 35 minutes for steel-cut oats — maybe with some diced apples and toasted hazelnuts — though rest assured I won’t be following the recipes that suggest stevia, skim milk or carob as accompaniments.

  1. Yay quinoa! I actually agree that its not all that exciting. I think the reason I like the other recipe is the ingredients that go with the quinoa not so much the grain itself. To me rice and other things like that are pretty much as boring so why not have the one that is so good for you. Glad you were able to surrender to this test now you can move on to other more exciting foods. 🙂 I think its funny that Sam said you can’t buy anything else until you use the other stuff in the pantry. I was told that by The Husband about tea a while ago but pregnancy has helped me get through the supply I had on hand. Miss you guys!

  2. I’m here working retail on Sat. and missed lunch so this photo and your description are making me hungry.
    This is my first blog read. Keep the good reading comming!

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