Since the quinoa in this dish is cooked in liquid that has been mixed with spices and a softened onion, it’s considered a pilaf. I didn’t know that until yesterday. I’ve heard of pilafs just about forever, but I always just assumed that the “pilaf” part of the dish has to do with some sort of special grain. That isn’t so. It’s basically a rice, or in the case of this recipe, a grain, that’s been cooked in a flavored broth. I have to say, it’s not a bad idea because the flavor in the broth gets to infuse itself all the way to the core of whatever it is you’re cooking.
Quinoa is considered a superfood. Some have even claimed it’s the world’s most popular superfood. It’s a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and dietary minerals. There are actually many more health benefits, all of which you can read here. It’s also a nice replacement for some of the more boring white rices and pastas, if you’re looking for something more substantial for your body. Personally, I like to prepare quinoa salads. I’ll be doing a lot of that for this website.
The recipe I’ll be sharing today was found at Cook’s Illustrated. Of course, I took what they offered and added some twists. Minor changes – nothing too drastic. The interesting thing about the recipe is that it creates a dish with a nutty flavor. Because the quinoa is toasted before it’s cooked, a much different dynamic is created than if it was simply boiled straight away. Also, the acid (lemon juice) at the end lifts the dish and offers a good balance of lightness. I know, it’s a challenge to explain, but I’ll tell you, I did a little taste testing last night – with and without the acid. Adding the juice was far superior than not adding it.
1 1/2 Cups Quinoa
2 Tablespoons Regular Olive Oil
1 Medium Sweet Onion
1 Teaspoon Chipotle Chile Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 3/4 Cups Water
2 Ounces Queso Fresco
1/2 Cup Unsalted Peanuts
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
If you don’t have or can’t find queso fresco, you can substitute with feta cheese. These two cheeses are somewhat similar and both crumble nicely. Queso fresco tastes like a mix between feta and mozzarella, which is quite interesting, so if you can get your hands on some, I advise you use it.
Before you begin, you should rinse your quinoa and let it dry. The best method for doing this is to use a screen strainer for the rinsing and a baking sheet for the drying. After it’s dry, go ahead and add the 1 1/2 cups of quinoa to a medium saucepan and toast for about 8 minutes over medium-high heat.
During the toasting, you’ll need to constantly stir. The quinoa has a tendency to stick to the metal of the pan. You’ll know you’re finished when you see the grain change slightly in color and it begins to pop. It’ll also become fragrant. When complete, remove the quinoa from the saucepan and add to a bowl for later use.
Soften Onion & Add Spices
Go ahead and chop the medium sized sweet onion and add it to the now empty saucepan. Place the 2 tablespoons of regular olive oil in the pan as well and heat to medium-low. Also, add the 1 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder, the 3/4 teaspoon of salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin.
Cook and stir for another 8 minutes until the onion is completely soft. Things should be smelling very good by this point. What you’ve just done is created the onion and spice mixture for the pilaf.
Cook the Quinoa
When the onion is soft, add the 1 3/4 cups of water and increase the heat on the stove top to high. Add the 1 1/2 cups of quinoa and bring everything to a boil. When boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook between 15 – 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes while the quinoa is cooking. When it’s finished, everything should be tender.
Prepare Remaining Ingredients
While the quinoa is cooking, go ahead and crumble the 2 ounces of queso fresco, chop the half cup of unsalted peanuts and thinly slice the 4 scallions.
Combine Ingredients & Serve
When the quinoa is ready, remove it from the saucepan and place it in a large bowl. Then, add in the queso fresco, the peanuts and the scallions. Finally, add the 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and mix well.
The Final Dish
This is a straightforward and healthy dish to prepare. After taking a few photos of the final product last night, Laura and I added some to our regular salads to jazz things up a bit. You can either do what we did or eat it by itself. It’s great either way.
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