"Have any of you ever had quinoa," I ask a group of mostly cheerful seventh grade students during their Family & Consumer Science class at the Scarsdale Middle School. I have been invited to do a cooking demonstration, which ties into their current lesson on superfoods. My question elicits a fair number of solid, thumbs up responses, like:
"Oh yeah, my mom makes quinoa all the time."
"There's this really good quinoa salad we get at....."
Then the naysayers speak up, either with their words or with dubious looks. You know that complacent stare that middle schoolers practically invented and perfected? That look tells me, "I wouldn't touch quinoa if you paid me a million dollars."
I was first introduced to quinoa when I worked in the kitchen of a health center that was virtually gluten free, so quinoa was a staple. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is often referred to as an "ancient grain" along with the likes of farro, bulgar, wheat berries, and millet. If you are not familiar with ancient grains, you must read up and discover how versatile, nutritious and satisfying these foods can be. My favorite instructional cookbook on the subject is Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. It is equally mouthwatering as it is instructional.
(A note to readers: I only will recommend cookbooks that are, in my opinion, accessible to home cooks and provide a real education to the reader about it's subject, whether the book is tailored to a particular technique, method or set of ingredients. A good recipe is not enough. Remember the mantra: knowledge + practice = success.)
If you think quinoa is a trend and on it's way out, think again. The June/July issue of Fine Cooking features an article on the superfood, highlighting some of its key characteristics:
- Quinoa is native to the Andes region of South America. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile, where the plant is grown in abundance, it has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years.
- Quinoa is not actually a grain, it's a seed. It's more closely related to beets and spinach.
- Quinoa, which is gluten-free, is a powerhouse of nutrition. It's called a "superfood" because it's a complete protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. It's all a good source of minerals.
Quinoa is here to stay, now ubiquitous in stores and on restaurant menus. This is good news. Perhaps even better news is that our kids are learning about superfoods and the connection between food and our overall health.
Over the course of a forty-two minute class, the seventh graders watch me prepare a Moroccan Quinoa with Citrus Vinaigrette. It's my platform for cramming in every point I can think to share with the kids about how to build a delicious and satisfying meal, touching upon taste, texture, nutrition, culinary preparations, and so on. We talk about food as fuel for the body and the brain. This is one of my favorite quinoa recipes because it is so well balanced and thus so very satisfying. Their teacher, Elyse Tenzer, has already taught the kids a lot about superfoods, and they know their stuff. The classroom is wafting with appetizing aromas while the kids and I are engaged in lively discussion.
The best part of class for the kids, of course, is when they get to taste the final dish. And for me, the best part is when the kids like it, even love it! For the most part they are surprised that healthy food can taste so darn good. Even some of the naysayers have converted. The room is buzzing with chatter and excitement when the bell rings and they scatter to their next class.
So, put yourself in a beginners mindset; a learners outlook, just like those endearing seventh graders. Roll up your sleeves, and if you haven't already, give quinoa a try. If you're unsatisfied with previous quinoa cooking attempts, give it a second chance. Parting words from my kitchen to yours: learn, practice, taste and enjoy!
By Jennifer Rossano
Moroccan Quinoa with Citrus Vinaigrette
Jennifer Rossano, Adapted from the BlumKitchen Nutrition Guide & Cookbook
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 ¾ cups of water
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ cup mint, minced
½ cup scallions, very thinly sliced or minced, white bottoms discarded (2-3 scallions)
¼ cup currants (raisins or cranberries are a good substitute)
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
1 TBSP juice of a lemon
1 TBSP juice of an orange
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Place the rinsed quinoa in a small pot and let it toast, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until the excess water is evaporated and the quinoa is dry. Then add the water and ½ tsp salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. If liquid still remains at the bottom of the pot after 15 minutes, return the pot to the heat and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
2. When the quinoa is done, take off the heat, add the cumin and coriander, then fluff gently with a fork, and let sit covered for another 5-10 minutes to infuse the quinoa with the spices.
3. To quickly cool the quinoa, spread it out on a baking sheet and gently spread it with a fork. Once cooled, transfer the quinoa to a bowl.
4. Then add the zests, mint, scallions, currants and pumpkin seeds and gently mix with a fork.
5. To make the vinaigrette, place the lemon and orange juices in a small bowl. Slowly add the oil, whisking briskly to emulsify the oil and juice together. Add salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste, starting with a large pinch of each (you can use ⅛ teaspoon measurement.) Dressing should taste a bit tangy.
6. Drizzle part of the vinaigrette over the quinoa. Mix gently, taste, and add more vinaigrette if desired, and adjust seasonings: adding more lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed so that you can taste all the flavors.
Makes approximately 4 cups.
1. Most packages will say to cook 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water. However I learned to use only 1 ¾ cups water to 1 cup quinoa, which results in a fluffier, lighter texture.
2. Quinoa needs to be rinsed due to the bitter residue which remains on it's exterior after harvest. Although most quinoa sold in the U.S. has already been striped clean before being packaged, it's a good idea to give it a good rinse at home anyway.
3. You need two indispensible kitchen tools for this recipe. A fine mesh strainer allows you to rinse the quinoa and also strain the fresh juices. A zester shaves the outer skin of citrus fruits into a fine texture called zest. The zest adds a ton of flavor without moisture.
4. Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitos, add a nice texture and crunch. To toast them, pre-heat an oven to 325°, evenly spread the seeds on a baking tray, and cook for 6-8 minutes until light brown and fragrant.
5. There are many different varieties of quinoa. The most common is the tan quinoa. Also you can find black quinoa and red quinoa, both of which you cook the same way, but they make take a bit more time.
(Updated May 2014)