For the past week Todd and I have been trying out recipes from Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser’s Quinoa Cuisine cookbook. Last night, as we dined on pizzas made with quinoa pizza crusts and red quinoa tamales, we joked that it was like being on a week-long Iron Chef, hold the shark-fin ice cream.
Cookbooks that focus on a single ingredient tend to fall into 2 types: the really awesome and the easily forgettable. Fortunately, Quinoa Cuisine falls into the really awesome camp.
First Some Background
If you’ve never tried quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) before, it looks something like couscous but it closer to rice and other grains in nutrients, though really it’s the seed of a plant in the spinach and beet family. Quinoa was revered by the ancient Incans as the “mother crop” and it boasts double the protein and fiber of white rice and 10 times the calcium. The “cost,” of course, is a few more calories per serving (222 compared to white rice’s 169, per cup), but being such a filling food, it’s 50 calories I’m willing to spend. It’s also one of the few plant-foods that counts as a complete protein (containing all 8 essential amino acids).
And if that’s not enough, white quinoa (it also comes in red and black), takes only 10 minutes or so of simmering and 5 minutes of sitting to be ready-to-go. Compare that with white or, especially, brown rice!
We’d tried quinoa as a rice-substitute in the past, but that’s all we ever did with it. This book uses not only the quinoa in it’s usual form but also quinoa flour and quinoa flakes (similar to quick oatmeal, only more delicate).
What About the Recipes?
I had a merry old time reading through the book and flagging all the recipes that I wanted to try. Just on the first pass I flagged 33 of the 150 recipes, and managed to fit 12 of them into this past week of dinners (it helps that Easter dinner was this weekend, I could slip in some delectable desserts that we normally wouldn’t try in a “normal” week).
After having to head to 4 stores before tracking down the quinoa flour and flakes (thank you, Earth Fare!), we started our quinoa odyssey with Pumpkin Waffles. The quinoa flour has a distinct scent—earthy is the best I can come up with at the moment—and it doesn’t 100% go away when the dish is finished. The waffles were dense (not a bad thing) and could have used more spice than the recipe called for, but were quite tasty when the usual butter and syrup were applied.
Another night we tried something from the Vegetarian chapter: Dal [lentils] with Kale Quinoa. We used it as a side-dish but it could have easily stood on it’s own and the wilted kale mixed into the white quinoa was a fun textural and taste change.
The Horseradish and Sour Cream-Crusted Tilapia was the first dish we had using the quinoa flakes: they were sprinkled over the top of the sour cream mixture before going into the oven. They neither browned nor turned crunchy, the way bread crumbs would have, but instead almost melted into the creamy coating and bulked up what could have been a too-slick topping. The Creamed Spinach (with white quinoa) was a fun change from the usual recipe, though mine turned out a little on the soupy side. Cutting the broth down will be an easy fix the next time we make it.
Since quinoa is gluten-free (you may have seen quinoa pasta or other baked goods in the specialty section of your local grocery store), making Quinoa Pizza Dough meant also adding some wheat flour to get the right consistency and lift. While the quinoa flour was supposed to add a slight nuttiness to the crust, we didn’t really notice a difference, but the finished Grilled Pizza with Prosciutto, Grilled Peaches, and Arugula didn’t have us complaining at all. The Red Quinoa Tamales were very good, too. My corn husks must have been a bit on the small side, though, as I had 18 when finished, instead of the 12 the recipe cited as the yeild. Still, not a bad thing to have more of, right?
The Real Test: My Family
I didn’t tell my family that pretty much everything I was making for Easter supper included quinoa. Mom knew that the salad (Black Bean, Corn and Quinoa Salad with Lime Dressing) had quinoa in it, but she didn’t know that the appetizers did, too, (Quinoa, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Fritters with Horseradish-Yogurt Sauce) and all 3 desserts, as well!
My family isn’t necessarily picky, but when it comes to holiday dinners they aren’t exactly adventurous, either. Much to my surprise, the quinoa salad was well-received and a lively discussion on the merits of quinoa ensued.
The real test, though, were the desserts. We made the Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake, the Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake and the Quinoa Carrot Cake, all with 100% quinoa flour.
The pound cake was the least favorite—it was dense (as pound cakes usually are, but a bit more so) and the lemon wasn’t quite strong enough to overcome the slightly off taste of the quinoa flour. The chocolate cake was incredibly light and moist, in comparison, and really carried itself well—Todd could taste the difference but, to me, it just seemed like a dark chocolate cake (which is what it was).
The Quinoa Carrot Cake was the favorite of everyone, though. Oh, man, this was one excellent carrot cake. Now, true, the cream cheese butter cream frosting certainly helped (her version called for maple flavoring but I had hazelnut in the cabinet and used that, instead), but the cake, itself, was super-moist and super-flavorful and, yes, you could taste the difference from the quinoa flour but it really worked for this recipe.
Over all, we thoroughly enjoyed our week feasting on quinoa in it’s various forms and are looking forward to trying out some of the other recipes in the book. If you’ve never tried quinoa, yourself, give it a whirl.