Quinoa – you pronounce it keen-wah – sounds exotic, but it’s really not.
And if it’s not in your cooking repertoire, it should be.
Quinoa is actually a seed, but it can be used like a grain – as a substitute for rice, couscous, or any similar grain. Popular among vegetarians because it is the most complete protein of any grain, it is catching on with the rest of us because it’s easy and fast to cook, very nutritious, and just plain tastes good.
If you’ve never tried it, quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor, and cooks up light and creamy, with just a bit of a crunchy texture as contrast. It works in pilafs, salads, tabouli and just about any dish calling for rice.
Quinoa cooks even faster than most grains – it can be ready in about 20 minutes. Before cooking, you should always rinse it well first, to remove any residue, which can give quinoa a slightly bitter flavor. (If you’ve tried it before and didn’t like it, this may be the reason!) Also, to bring out an even nuttier flavor, you can toast the quinoa, as you would nuts; just heat it in a dry skillet for three-four minutes, over medium heat, being careful not to burn it.
Quinoa with black beans and tomatoes
Serves 4 as main dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup canned tomatoes
3/4 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen; if using canned, rinse and drain)
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Sour cream, fresh avocado, and pepper-jack cheese, to garnish
Rinse quinoa in cold water. (Because it is very fine, cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer works better than a typical colander.) Set aside.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook for about five minutes, until slightly softened. Add bell pepper and garlic and cook for another five minutes or so, until all vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Add tomatoes.
Add quinoa and broth and stir. Stir in cumin, chile powder and chile flakes. Bring all to a low boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes, or until quinoa has absorbed most of the liquid.
Remove lid, stir well, and add black beans and corn. Cook another five minutes or so, until entire mixture is heated through. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze lime juice over all. Serve with fresh cilantro, sour cream, avocado slices and pepper-jack cheese as garnishes.