Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Layered" Quinoa


I do a lot of healthy cooking demonstrations and one of the things that I’ve learned is that far less people have tried many of the foods that a health food junkie like myself might consider a staple. Quinoa is one such food so I love to bring it out and toss it together for a live audience. Food is always a favorite prop anyway, and I’ve learned that most people in an audience will taste anything if it’s offered by an exuberant presenter.

I prepare each of the “layers” at home and assemble for folks to see just how easy and enjoyable eating well can be. Folks always ask for the recipe and many come up requesting seconds. It always makes me happy to help people expand their palates and the realm of whole food possibilities. The foundation of many well-made meals is simply layering agreeable and interesting flavors and textures, and this quinoa bowl is an example of just that, ergo: layered quinoa. There’s certainly room to play around a swap ingredients, which I do with great liberty, depending on what is available, fresh, affordable and in season.

My favorite part about this versatile dish is that it’s equally great served warm or chilled—which means it travels well and can be enjoyed virtually anywhere.


"Layered" Quinoa




Layer 1: The Quinoa

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2.5 cups of chicken stock (vegetable stock, beef stock, etc)

Mix quinoa in pot with chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, cook for 8-10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. 


Layer 2: The Red Chili Sauce

I always add this in, regardless of other seasonal ingredients, because it’s rich and flavorful, inexpensive and something that I pretty much keep on hand in my fridge all of the time. Ancho chilis are not at all spicy but have a warm, complex flavor that really deepens and warms any dish this is added to. It’s also a great sauce for huevos rancheros, one of my go-to quick and easy comfort meals.

This recipe makes more than you'll need since you will add this in to taste, I generally use 1/3 - 2/3 cup for the entire batch of quinoa.   No worries, you'll find plenty of uses for the extra sauce!

RED CHILI SAUCE

3 dried ancho* chili peppers, peeled and seeded
water to cover
clove of garlic
salt & pepper to taste

Break apart dried chili peppers and remove seeds and stem; discard. Take remaining pepper pieces and place in small sauce pan with peeled garlic clove. Place enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 7-8 minutes or until peppers are soft.

Allow to cool slightly and then using either a blender**, food processor or immersion blender, puree into a smooth sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.

*You can get dried ancho chili peppers from the Hispanic/Latino section of your grocer or, if you are fortunate enough to have a local tienda market in your town, this is a great way to support local business!

**If using blender, remove center piece out of lid to vent and cover with a kitchen towel prior to turning on. This eliminates the possibility of pressure building up and causing lid to pop off which could make for some nasty burns.


Layer 3: The Caramelized Onions



Just like the red chili sauce, caramelized onions are a staple in my fridge. I make a batch nearly every Sunday, and then add them to everything from soups to sandwiches to salads all week long. They even make an appearance on our bake potato bar night, and when I’ve got 1/3 cup of these flavorful babies piled up on a potato, I most definitely use far less sour cream and shredded cheese. I like the complexity of the flavor they add to food and their nutritional profile makes me happy as well—so much so that I wrote an entire post on the tears of joy they provide, back in April of 2011.

How to caramelize onions: Slice up several onion(s) and place in sauté pan with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 2 tbsp of water and a pinch of salt. Heat to medium-low temperature and cover with lid, stirring every couple minutes. When onions begin to turn brown, remove lid and continue to cook, stirring every so often, until onions are sweet and a deep caramel color. From beginning to end this takes approximately 10 minutes. If you want to do a much large batch, you can slice enough to fill a crock pot. Plug in and set on the low setting overnight. These will caramelize without even adding salt or water, though I usually add a pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness, and about ¼ cup of water, just in case my onions are more dry than I’d like.

Layer 4: Seasoned Pepitas Though pepitas are my favorite ingredient for this layer, I will also use garbanzo beans and/or peas (as pictured), walnuts or even chopped almonds. It’s the seasonings and light toasting that give this layer the nice contrasting flavor and I like to have some color variations to throw in there (such as pepitas or peas) because, let’s face it, quinoa is not the most aesthetically appeasing food on it’s own. Whatever you use, follow the preparation technique below and you are certain to have a nice flavor layer that will enhance this dish. SEASONED PEPITAS 1/3 cup pepitas or raw pumpkin seeds ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon taco seasoning or chili powder 1 teaspoon soy sauce In shallow pan on top of stove, toss pepitas with olive oil and taco seasoning or chili powder. Toast over medium high heat, while stirring every so often, for 2-3 minutes or until seeds are toasted. Watch carefully so that they do not burn. Just before removing from heat, add soy sauce and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

Layer 5: The Extras Now is where the seasonal additions come into play, and though I love it with avocado alone, I find that summer tomatoes and cucumber are nice, as is sautéed mushrooms, cilantro and just about anything I’ve ever tossed in. Be creative!

Some suggestions are:

Avocado
Fresh parsley
Cilantro
Arugula
Chic peas/ garbanzo beans
Cucumber
Tofu
Feta or Mexican crumbling cheese
Shredded carrots
Roasted beets
Roasted or steamed broccoli
Walnuts
Red pepper
Green onions
Wilted kale or fresh baby kale
Artichoke hearts
Roasted pumpkin
Roasted parsnip, rutabaga or other root vegetables


Assembly: Toss layers together and serve!  Eating really well really can be THIS easy!


What else can you come up with to add into the mix? Because what is really important is that YOU love it, so that you have a chance for this healthy dish to love your body back!~


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Monday, December 9, 2013

Roasted Grapes with Brie


This is one of those appetizers that will welcome guests into your home with an amazing aroma.  It always gets a ton of compliments and recipe requests, both of which are a testimony to true good eats!

1/2 pound green grapes, broken into small clusters
1/2 pound red grapes, broken into small clusters
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, finely minced
leaves from 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch sea salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
small brie wheel or wedge, to serve

1 - Preheat oven to 450°F.

2 - Place grape clusters,  shallot and thyme on a baking sheet. 

3 - Toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.

4 - Roast for 10 minutes, pull out of oven and make room on baking sheet for your brie.

5 - Return to oven just until brie is warned and grape skins are slightly crisp but the grapes are still soft and juicy inside, about 15 minutes.


Serve warm, along with crackers or crusty bread and wine.  These are also great on a savory-sweet wood fired pizza!