No longer just a fad, quinoa is here to stay

Oneforthetable.comMarch 26, 2013 

When I first wrote about quinoa some years ago, many of you empathized. You too had gone to a supermarket and asked someone where you could find the kwi-NO-ah. Not anymore. Quinoa (pronounced keen-WAH) has gone mainstream.

Case in point: the Point Loma, Calif., Trader Joe’s on a recent Sunday, I overheard the guy next to me say to his wife, “Hey, hon. Is this the keen-WAH you want?”

He pronounced it perfectly, without the slightest hesitation. Of course, I had to look. No, he wasn’t dressed in a chef’s jacket and orange Crocs. In fact, he was a military guy – there’s a naval base in Point Loma – tall and muscular with a crew cut. And his shopping cart had lots of red meat and eggs in it, not tofu or sprouts.

What makes quinoa so special? Quinoa is high in complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. But don’t eat it just because it’s good for you; eat it because it’s good. Though quinoa is technically a seed, it is used as a grain. Cooked quinoa is delicately fluffy with a mildly nutty flavor and can be used in dishes ranging from salads and soups to cereals and stuffing.

My current favorite is today’s recipe for healthy Fruity Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers. I have made these stuffed peppers several times now, experimenting with different ingredients, and this version is the winner. Nutrient-rich colored bell peppers are the vessel for a flavorful and textured quinoa stuffing studded with chewy apricots, tangy cherries, and crunchy pistachios. Pair with side salad for a substantial vegetarian meal, or serve as a side dish with a chicken, pork or seafood entree.

Fruity Quinoa Stuffed Peppers 1 cup uncooked quinoa 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling the stuffed peppers 1 large shallot, finely diced 2 celery stalks, finely diced 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced 1/3 cup dried tart cherries, chopped 1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, cilantro, or parsley 6 small or 4 large red, yellow or orange bell peppers

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Pour the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve; rinse and drain. (This helps remove some slight natural bitterness from the grains).

PLACE quinoa and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. (If the water evaporates before the quinoa is cooked, add a bit more.) The quinoa is done when the grains have turned partially white and the spiral-like germ is visible. They should maintain a slight crunch when eaten.

WARM 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and celery; saute 2-3 minutes, or until shallots are translucent. Add diced apricots and cherries, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add pistachios, cinnamon, ginger, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs. Stir together and heat through. Place in a large bowl.

ADD cooked quinoa, and toss until well combined. Taste the stuffing and adjust seasonings as necessary.

WASH and dry the peppers. Using a pairing knife, remove the stem, core and seeds. Divide the stuffing equally among the peppers. Place stuffed peppers in a casserole or baking dish and drizzle the tops with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

BAKE for 40-45 minutes, or until peppers are softened and wrinkly and a few brown spots appear on the skin. If the stuffing is browning too much, cover the tops with foil. Serve hot or at room temperature. YIELD: 4-6 servings

Susan Russo is a freelance food writer in San Diego. This originally ran on www.oneforthetable.com.

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