Quinoa is the staple grain for the Incas, who ate it daily without even knowing they were eating superfoods; the gold of the Incas, as it is dubbed, is rapidly gaining ground in western cultures as well. It was sacred in ancient Inca and Aztec cultures, and its cultivation was even banned during the times of the Conquistadors in the fifteenth century, because of its symbolic ceremonial meaning among indigenous peoples, and is now enjoying a whole renaissance: The perfect ancient addition to the modern kitchen. The quintessential superfood, it has an ideal nutritional profile: A complete protein, high in fiber, relatively low in starch, with a delicious nutty flavor, chewy texture, gluten-free, versatile and equally at home in the preparation of savory and sweet dishes alike: What more could we possibly expect of a tiny little grain? The cultivation of quinoa is very low maintenance and forgiving, yielding vast amounts even in arid settings, making it the food of the masses par excellence. The United Nations has classified quinoa as a “super-crop” for its exceptional nutritional qualities.
Quinoa is a pseudo-grain. While it has all the characteristics and the nutritional assets of a grain, it belongs in the goosefoot plant family (spinach, Swiss chard etc…), which explains why we can enjoy it on Passover. And enjoy it we do, in every shape and form, on Passover and year-round.
Quinoa comes in a whole gamut of colors: the most common is white, but it also comes in red, black, orange, yellow, purple: The whole rainbow. Mix and match the colors and get a real fun confetti-like effect in the finished dish.
Before cooking quinoa, be sure to rinse it thoroughly in a large fine-mesh strainer under plenty of cold running water, until the water runs clear, to rid it of its soapy saponin, sprayed on to keep insects away: What do you know, they love quinoa, as do we!
I like to start quinoa with cold water, one part grain to 2 parts water, with a few drops oil and a little salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium and cook, covered and undisturbed, about 15 minutes: the grain will start opening and showing tiny white points, signaling it is done. Fluff it with two forks. You can now take it places, even without any premeditated recipes. Here are just a few ideas to get you started: as is, as a side dish; with added milk, raisins, cinnamon and nuts as delicious and super nutritious hot cereal; as a base for stuffing for fish or chicken; as a substitute for kasha, mixed with sauté mushrooms and dark-fried onions; used instead of bulghur in tabouleh; as the grain for couscous dishes. Likewise, use quinoa flour to make perfectly gluten-free and perfectly delicious crepes and pancakes. The possibilities are endless!
Not for nothing, I kept the best for the end: Children seem to love quinoa: My little granddaughter clamored for it every day the whole week of Passover, and ate it with great gusto, without any prodding, saying enthusiastically: “Bubbie yook! I’m ealing wice!”
Here are just a few wonderful goodies made with quinoa, all of which are taken from my latest cookbook, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen (you can purchase it using this link)
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Quinoa Oatmeal Cookies (and all Variations)
This gem of a recipe does all my bidding: added nuts and seeds, gluten-free, vegan, different kinds of oil, you name it! I use the recipe in a dozen permutations and get a different cookie each time, all fun and exciting. They are so crunchy you can crumble them and use them as granola over yogurt. Couldn’t live without them! Don’t even bother with a mixer: All ingredients aboard, mix, that’s the whole story!
Occasionally I have an urge to eat more of them than is good for me, and I forgo a whole meal so I can splurge and have four or five of them instead, with a cup of tea. In this case, I conveniently call them lunch: They are real food!
2 eggs (if you are avoiding eggs, use 2 tablespoons flax meal steeped in ½ cup warm water)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar or Sucanat (health-food stores)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned oats (gluten-free: make sure it is clearly stated on the container)
1 cup quinoa flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly by hand. Drop by heaping teaspoons on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart. Flatten them slightly with your hand. Bake one sheet at a time. Bake 18 minutes. The texture will be crisp. Leave one baked cookie out for a few minutes to cool: If it is not perfectly crisp, return the cookies in the oven to crisp 1 to 2 more minutes. Store at room temperature in a cookie tin. Makes about 4 dozen.
-Experiment with other kinds of whole-grain flours, low gluten or gluten-free instead of the quinoa flour: spelt, kamut, millet, chick pea, etc….
-Use all Sucanat and no white sugar: total 11/4 cups.
-Throw in 1 cup of unsweetened grated coconut.
-Throw in ½ cup raisins, cranberries, or other dry fruit, larger ones chopped.
-Throw in 2 cups best-quality chocolate chips. In this case, lower the sugar in the basic recipe to 1 cup total.
Oat Quinoa Chili
For all of us whose love of beans remains, alas, unrequited, let me say you can make a perfect chili substituting oat, quinoa and brown rice or lentils in any proportion for the feisty beans, so you can have your chili and eat it too! You can easily make this dish vegetarian: It has lots of great flavor going for it even without the meat. If beans are no trouble, by all means use them—3 cups in all—but soak them overnight and cook the dish a little longer until the beans are tender.
In my cookbook I make extensive use – and list all applications - of Sofrito, a valuable building block in many Latin and Sephardi dishes, you will always be happy to have it on hand.
For the sofrito:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onion, quartered
2 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch cilantro, stems discarded
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
11/2 pounds ground turkey, beef, lamb, or bison (skip for an all-vegetarian dish, or substitute 1 pound seitan, diced)
3 quarts (12 cups) water
4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1?3 cup tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine (liquor stores)
6 bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon ground
1?3 cup chili powder
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup quinoa, thoroughly rinsed and strained
1 cup short grain brown rice or lentils
2 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons oregano
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1. Make the sofrito: Heat the oil in a wide heavy pot. In a food processor, coarsely grind the onion, celery, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and red pepper and add the ground mixture to the pot. Sauté until translucent.
2. Add the meat and sauté, breaking up any large chunks, until no longer pink. Add the water, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, bay leaves, chili powder, oats, quinoa and rice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook covered for 1 hour. Add all remaining ingredients and cook 10 more minutes. Adjust texture and seasonings. Serve alone or with the usual chili garnishes: white or brown rice, guacamole or corn chips. Makes a dozen ample servings.
They are so full of flavor that they can easily bear being combined with other ingredients for bulk and added crunch and nutrition. This makes a perfect main course, and is a welcome break from frequent meat choices. Of course you can substitute any other grain, or even beans (3 cups total cooked), and substitute the seasonings of your choice if you want to jazz it up: oregano, cumin, curry, cilantro, scallions, etc. As long as you keep the suggested grain-veggies proportions in mind, everything will work. Perfect for Passover too!
2 cups cold water
1 cup quinoa
vegetable oil for frying
1 large onion
1 large carrot
2 ribs celery
1/2 cup flour (any flour, including gluten-free)
1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts or seeds (poppy, sesame, chia, hemp, etc.), optional
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Good pinch cayenne
Good pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium and cook covered, about 15 minutes, until the grain open up to show a little white bud.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet, about 1/3 inch high, then keep the temperature at medium hot, not smoking hot. Transfer the cooked quinoa to a mixing bowl. In a food processor, grate the onion, carrot, and celery and add to the bowl with all remaining ingredients.
3. Mix thoroughly by hand. Form patties with the mixture and throw in the hot oil. Fry 2 minutes on each side, or until just golden. Drain on paper towels and serve hot. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Millet loaf: If you would rather not fry, skip the oil for frying, mix the cooked grain with all remaining ingredients, adding 1?3 cup olive oil to the mix. Pour the mixture into a 6-cup loaf, and bake in a preheated 350°F for about 1 hour, or until the top is golden and barely set. Slice and serve hot or at room temperature.