Let’s face it, we’re all spoiled by grab-and-go convenience foods. When the hunger beast rears its angry head, we walk into the kitchen, stare blankly into the brimming refrigerator, and, seeing only ingredients, conclude that there’s nothing to eat. Au contraire, my friends! There is just nothing ready to eat. I know what you’re thinking. “What am I supposed to do? Gnaw on a leaf of Swiss chard?” Well, yes and no. See, when we’re faced with a barrage of ingredients, its often hard to envision what the end product is, so our brain overloads with either the excess or absence of options, and we give up and either go hungry, eat something convenient and pre-made, or go buy something prepared. However, with some practice, we can start to see those items filling the corners of our fridges and pantries as vibrant parts of a delicious whole. The best place to start is to find some foundation on which to build a dish, and then go from there.
Today’s blank canvas is quinoa (KEEN-wah), a magical little grain in a tiny snail-shaped dot. (Actually, it’s technically a seed because it’s not from a grass, but rather from a plant closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Really, tumbleweeds! Just another reason to love quinoa. However, we treat it as a grain in cooking.) For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa or previously tentative about trying it, welcome to a new taste sensation. It has a nutty flavor and toothsome mouth-feel, and can be used a lot like rice or small pasta (think orzo or couscous), but it’s incredibly good for you (high in protein and gluten free) and simple to prepare. You can find it in packages near the rice and pasta in your market, or in the bulk section, which is the more economical option. I buy it in bulk and store it in a big glass jar. The easiest way to prepare it is to boil it in water or broth (2 parts liquid, 1 part quinoa) until the water is absorbed (about 12-14 minutes), fluff and serve. Instant side dish. From there you can get more sophisticated and make pilafs, salads, stuffings, etc. It’s also really tasty added to soup or hot breakfast cereal. (Fun fact: quinoa is currently being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights because of all its nifty convenient and nutritious characteristics. Space grain! Definitely ups its cool factor.) read more »