A Quinoa-Centered Meal

I am very excited to be part of Foodbuzz’s 24×24!

Bowl of uncooked quinoa Table setting
Bowl of uncooked quinoa and The table setting

My family dinner was focused on quinoa. Quinoa is sort of like couscous except it’s a protein-rich grain (not a pasta like couscous) and it tastes nutty when eaten alone. The quinoa I used (according to its package instructions), ask for a 2:1 ratio (by volume, as in 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa) of boiling water to quinoa and after it absorbs the liquid for 15-20 minutes, you’d fluff it up with a fork like couscous. (You can find quinoa from health food stores or online.)

I like quinoa but usually eat it in the form of a salad. I’ve been inspired recently from reading Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (it was awarded with the James Beard Award 2011 for Baking and Dessert, as seen here on PDF) that you can create desserts using whole grains. So I thought, “Why can’t you make quinoa dishes from savory (more than just salad) to sweet and still be satisfied without thinking ‘it tastes too healthy’?”

To toy around this experiment and my recruited test subjects, so to speak, were my family. This group of omnivores are pretty hard to please. The men require some meat in any course or dish otherwise it will not considered a meal, and everyone wants to eat something that’s flavorful and delicious. Not willing to cause a riot at home, I’ll cook main courses that does have meat but still have quinoa as the star.

Quinoa salad with chickpeas, Buttermilk Blue cheese, grape tomatoes and parsley
Quinoa salad with chickpeas, Buttermilk Blue cheese, cucumber, grape tomatoes, parsley

To start the meal, I did make a salad but it’s a quinoa salad with chickpeas, Buttermilk Blue cheese, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and parsley. The creamy, salinity (and mild pungency) of the blue cheese adds a whole dimension of flavor. The chickpeas makes it a hearty salad and technically, I would make this as a deliciously satisfying lunch or a simple main course for dinner (if you just want to make one very easy dish). For the vegetarians (who do eat cheese), this is a great, refreshing salad. I’ll give you the recipe at the end of this post.

Quinoa patties with sautéed chicken breast
Quinoa patties with sautéed chicken breast

The quinoa patties with sautéed chicken breast is meant to serve as a substantial grain. These dense patties are good served and flavored with almost anything as it’s a relative blank slate. I flavored mine with aged Gruyere and parsley. The chicken breast was simply salt and peppered.

Chinese Five-Spice Chicken (鹽焗雞) with baby bok choy and Chinese influenced quinoa

The roasted Chinese five-spice chicken (鹽焗雞) with baby bok choy were served with Chinese-influenced quinoa. The quinoa almost mimicking the idea of stir-fried rice. The cold, cooked quinoa was stir-fried with fresh shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated, whole dried scallops (expensive ingredient but it does impart a lot of flavor), parsley, soy sauce, and most importantly, a touch of toasted sesame oil to bring the flavors together by enhancing the inherent nuttiness of the quinoa.

Chinese-style lamb stew with quinoa

To make the carnivores in my family happy, I also cooked lamb stew with quinoa. The lamb stew was cooked with lamb shoulder, potatoes, carrots, Szechuan pepper (花椒), five spice powder (五香粉), whole star anise (八角), cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and Chinese rock candy (冰糖; it’s a particular sugar that’s used in Chinese cooking and you should be able to find it at Asian grocery stores), dark and light soy sauces, Chinese bean sauce (豆瓣醬), and a splash of 15-year old Cognac (just to make it taste special). The quinoa is simply served as is since the stew has so much flavor.

Quinoa, oat, almond, dried cranberries and cherries cookies
Quinoa, oat, almond, dried cranberries and cherries cookies

For dessert, we had probably the most addictive, healthy cookies I ever made: Quinoa, oat, almond, dried cranberries and cherries cookies. I know the name needs work but it’s self explanatory as to what it is and how hearty this cookie is. Normally, I don’t care for healthy or whole grain desserts since I think it would presume it tastes like cardboard but it’s actually very tasty! I can’t stop putting my hands on the cookie plate because of the crunchy texture and it’s packed with nuts and sweet and tart dried fruits. It’s a chewy, hearty cookie that I would daresay it’s a cookie you can eat for breakfast without feeling guilty. (The recipe seen after the salad.)

Chickpea, tomato, parsley quinoa salad

1 1/2 cups quinoa (9 to 10 ounces), rinsed, drained
2 15- to 16-ounce cans chickpeas (garbonzo beans), rinsed, drained
1 3/4 cups 1/3-inch cubes unpeeled English hothouse cucumber
1 1-pint container grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves
1 1/2 cups coarsely crumbled Buttermilk blue cheese (about 7 ounces), divided (you may substitute it with any crumbly, salty cheese like feta (relatively mild) or if you want something more pungent, Stilton or Gorgonzola)
1/4 cup Cabernet wine vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1/2 cup olive oil

1. Place quinoa in large saucepan; add enough salted water to cover quinoa by 1 inch. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 to 16 minutes. Drain. Chill until cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine chickpeas, cubed cucumber, halved tomatoes, parsley leaves, and half of the cheese in extra-large bowl. Add cooled quinoa and toss gently to blend.

3. Whisk vinegar and pimentón in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheese over.

Quinoa, oat, almond, dried cranberries and cherries cookies
Loose adaptation of Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce’s Quinoa Cookies
Yield: About 24 cookies

Dry mix:
1 cup all-purpose flour (you can make it more whole grain by using white whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Wet mix:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup slivered unsalted almonds

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift (or more easier, whisk) all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

3. If using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add the butter and both sugars and mix on medium-high speed until it’s light and fluffy for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the honey and eggs and turn on to a very low speed so your ingredients won’t splatter all over the kitchen. Once it is incorporated (about 1 minute), turn up the speed to a medium-high, and mix until it is fluffy and light (about 2 minutes). Turn the mixer off.

4. Take the bowl of dry mixture and add about half into the whipped butter mixture. Turn on the mixer at its lowest setting and let it stir until it’s incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture. Turn off the mixer and remove the bowl from the mixer.

5. Add the cooled, cooked quinoa, old-fashioned oats, almonds, and dried fruits into the batter and stir it in with a spatula. (I prefer this step to avoid over-mixing the batter.)

6. Take a small ice cream scooper (for even sizing, but may use a tablespoon but place about 2 tablespoons’ worth of cookie dough) and scoop out the dough onto prepared sheets, spacing one inch apart.

7. Bake cookies until golden for about 15-18 minutes, rotating halfway through for even browning. Transfer the baked cookies onto a wire rack to cool. Cookies are best eaten the day it’s made but may be stored in an airtight container for 3 days. (Note: I’ve noticed when I baked a test batch earlier, as it past the first day the cookie gets softer but the quinoa gets crunchier but it still tastes very good.)

To view more photos of my dinner, please click through the slideshow (or view my Flickr set):

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There are 12 comments

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  1. Annie Lupka

    I’ve just recently learned about quinoa. I keep seeing it on blogs and at Costco but have yet to try it because I honestly don’t know what to do with it. This post definitely gave me some ideas though!

    Congrats on the 24 x 24, you did a great job!

  2. Isabelle Boucher

    What a great idea for a 24×24 event! I love quinoa in salads, but I never quite know what to do with it otherwise… so I’m really excited to have a whole bunch of delicious-looking recipes I can try! The lamb stew sounds absolutely phenomenal.

  3. visda

    What a great choice for 24×24. I love quinoa but I only put it in celery salad or use it as a side. Your variety of recipes makes it a lot more intriguing. I’m going to try those patties this weekend. Thanks for sharing such great ideas.

  4. Liz Hall

    I was looking for some quinoa recipes and this looks like a great place to start!  Thanks for the inspiration!!

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