Can I tell you how hard it is to write a post about quinoa? I’ve been staring at the screen all morning, trying to figure out how to drum up excitement for something perceived as uber-boring. Let’s face it, “health” food isn’t sexy, it doesn’t come with the same cache of chocolate, or caramel, or homemade ricotta. Quinoa is that ingredient you read about in fitness magazines (yawn) and it’s told in health food stores (another yawn). In other words – boring, snooze-inducing, what-your-mom-would-want-you-to-eat food.
The fact that there’s no mysterious dark side to quinoa is true. You even feel wholesome eating it – there’s absolutely no guilt associated with it (crazy, right?). There is no food coma afterward. You feel satiated, alert and healthy – it’s kind of boring, really. I’ve only been eating it at the Whole Foods’ salad bar and while always enjoying it, feeling a little bit unexciting afterward; it always tempted me to reach for a piece of bacon post meal (if only there was a piece of bacon to be found!). It might be why I had never previously purchased quinoa for the home.
So why am I telling you about something that’s boring? Well, because it happens to be delicious, and shockingly exciting. After we got tired of rice, pasta, and potatoes (did I just write I got tired of potatoes? Someone please check to see if I’m running a fever!) – I decided to look elsewhere for our grain fix. And while reorganizing my pantry, I found a box of red quinoa sitting pretty on one of my shelves. Unsure of how it got there, I checked the expiration date and it seemed fine. And after trying to figure out how it snuck into the apartment, I assumed it must have been something a visitor brought in with them – as this apartment has served as a mini-hotel for so many. Perhaps my mom brought it with her, or maybe it was another sneaky house guest. There it was, staring me squarely in the face, as if issuing a silent challenge, “Can you handle me?”
Undeterred, I decided it was time for quinoa in the Sassy Radish kitchen. I consulted the all-knowing sage of all things vegetarian, Deborah Madison (well, technically, I consulted her book, not her directly) and found the recipe that inspired me to make this, and charged ahead.
Well, boring this was not. Quinoa (and I’ll spare you the lecture on how good it is for you and its protein content – you can look that up yourself) is a great canvas for whatever you want it to become. It’s a chameleon of sorts and assumes whatever role you want it to. It only appears boring because it’s waiting on you to give it a proper context. And then – then it definitely gets all sexypants. For serious. Because the cumin-lime vinaigrette, flavorful, lively, and packing some heat, is the equivalent of changing your flats to patent leather heels (a girl can dream, right?). And there’s nothing boring about patent-leather heels. Nothing at all.
Quinoa with Pine Nuts and Dried Fruit
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
1 cup quinoa
1 yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried currants (I used dried blueberries)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted lightly
Cumin Lime Vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove, minced
Grated zest of 2 limes
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 bird’s eye chile, minced, seeds left for added heat
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Cook quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Allow to cool and come to room temperature. In the meantime, mix together the remaining salad ingredients, and make lime vinaigrette.
To make lime vinaigrette, first combine the garlic, zest, lime juice and shallot in a bowl and set aside. Toast the cumin and coriander together over medium heat. It should take about 5-7 minutes, or until the spices get more fragrant. Remove from heat and finely grind using a mortar and pestle. Add the spices to the lime juice mixture and add the chile pepper as well. Whisk in oil and lastly add chopped cilantro.
When quinoa is at room temperature, combine it with the salad ingredients and mix well to distribute all the components evenly. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to combine.
Serve at room temperature.