Weekly Winner: Elevating Quinoa Beyond Celery Status

I have never been a fan of eating something simply because it is healthy.  It also has to taste good.  Case in point, celery. By itself, I don’t like the taste of celery but I understand the benefits of adding it to soups and such.  I just would never, ever eat celery by itself. Even slathering it in peanut butter, while definitely improving the taste, is simply a vehicle for eating peanut butter.  In my opinion, a spoon is a better tool for that.

I had the same ambivalent feelings toward quinoa.  I understand it is stupidly healthy, high in protein, and a revered “ancient grain”.  It’s also incredibly boring!  I guess that’s one thing it has over celery….I don’t dislike the taste on its own, because it has no taste on its own.  It’s sort of like eating cardboard pellets. I just didn’t know why I would want to willingly do that.  That is, until last night.

Enter: Fiesta Quinoa Salad.  Look out, because quinoa is now hosting a fiesta!  It’s fun!  It’s festive!  I dare say it is company-worthy!  And the best part is that the stuff you add to the Fiesta Quinoa to make it a fiesta and to actually improve the taste not only doesn’t detract from its inherent healthiness, it actually adds to it!

The original recipe called for grilled, skewered shrimp on top.  I had a hankering for salmon and it was pouring outside so I called an audible and made it with seared salmon. I also had a bag of frozen, roasted corn that sat in nicely for the fresh grilled corn (and so much easier!). Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I used a yellow bell pepper instead of red, but threw in some red grape tomatoes that I had to add some more color.  I know, I’m such a recipe rebel….switching proteins, adding veggies!  Total recipe anarchy!  And if you’ve read a single other post I’ve written you know I omitted the cilantro!

Speaking of the original recipe, it comes from Fine Cooking Magazine. If you are suffering from quinoa fatigue or boredom, here’s the answer to your quinoa conundrum. The recipe I’ve included is just for the salad.  Be bold!  Top it with whatever you want (not that the grilled skewered shrimp would have been bad).

Fiesta Quinoa Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup white quinoa, rinsed

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

2 medium cloves garlic, smashed to a paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large ears of corn (or about 2 cups frozen roasted corn, thawed)

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium red bell pepper (or yellow, as the case may be), finely diced

4 medium scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro leaves (very, very, optional)

Procedure:

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender and all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, the lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and whisk until combined.

If using fresh corn, brush them with 1 Tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill the corn, turning occasionally, until charred in spots, about 8 minutes.  Let the corn cool briefly, then cut the kernels from the cob.  Or, simply open a bag of frozen roasted corn and run briefly under warm water, drain and proceed).

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, beans, bell pepper and scallions.  Toss with the dressing and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

 

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Weekly Winner:  A Peculiar Little Pasta

I honestly did not know what to expect with this pasta dish.  It was one of the few recipes that, having read it, I just couldn’t imagine what it was going to taste like.  I knew I liked everything listed in it, but could not fathom the final outcome.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Chickpeas and Mint.  Who thinks up these things?  Apparently Food and Wine Magazine does.

So when a free night arrived, I decided to whip this up.  It all seemed a tad beige to me and I happened to have some spare baby arugula in the house so I threw that in for a bit of color.  Then I read the final line of the recipe: “Dollop with yogurt”. What?!?  Why?!?  I was actually going to forgo that step.  Then I did a quick taste test with and without the yogurt.  OK, seriously, these recipe creators know what they are doing!  It was way better with the yogurt!

Granted, it may not be much to look at, but it is one tasty pasta dish.  It is oddly appealing and somewhat addicting.  It’s the type of dish you just keep going back for one more forkful.  Do try it, but definitely don’t leave out the yogurt!

Orecchiette with Sausage, Chickpeas and Mint

Ingredients:

1 lb orecchiette

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 pound loose sweet Italian sausage

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup small mint leaves

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt

Pepper

Plain yogurt, for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.
  2. Wipe out the pot and heat the olive oil in it. Add the sausage and cook over moderate heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and nearly cooked through, 7 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas, orecchiette and reserved cooking water and toss over moderate heat until the pasta is hot and coated in a light sauce, about 2 minutes. Stir in the mint and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Dollop with yogurt.

Weekly Winner:  There Will Be No More Coleslaw in this House

Its true.  I don’t see myself ever making your standard, everyday coleslaw again.  Not that I have anything against coleslaw, but after trying this carrot slaw I will never consider coleslaw an acceptable side dish.  This Turmeric-Curried Golden Carrot Slaw is worlds better in so many ways.  Healthier, more unique, more colorful (yes, that matters) and most importantly, it is far more interesting. It made the perfect accompaniment to some simple roasted salmon filets.

The recipe was actually sent to me by a client asking me to make it for her.  After tasting it the first time, I knew It would become a staple for me.  The original recipe comes from the blog HappyHealthyLife.com.

It is, in a word, “craveable”. Sweet, spicy, crunchy, creamy – it has it all.  The only change I made this time was to replace the sunflower seeds with roasted pistachios.  I liked it even better.

The only time I can see me reverting back to coleslaw is when I make pulled pork sandwiches — although, now that I think about it, this carrot slaw might just work on that as well!

Turmeric-Curried Golden Carrot Slaw

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups shredded carrots

1-1/2 Tbsp maple syrup

2-3 Tbsp tahini

1/2 cup raisins

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Pinch of salt and pepper

1/4 cup sunflower seeds or roasted pistachios

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl.

Toss salad for 2-3 minutes to completely infuse carrots with all the spices and flavorings.