NEW YORK – Quinoa has been described as a “superfood,” “miracle grain,” “powerhouse seed.”
The key to making quinoa taste good is to add good-tasting things to it. There’s only so much you can do to enhance quinoa’s natural flavor and texture: Use the right amount of water, don’t cook it too long, don’t forget the salt, etc. Sautéing the seeds in oil or butter before you add water is always a good idea, but the most important thing is what delicious things you add to flavor the quinoa.
Here is a blueprint for making a good quinoa pilaf.
First you need an allium. Onion, scallion, shallot, leek or garlic will do. Slice or chop it and cook it in oil or butter until it’s soft.
Then, add the quinoa, toast it in the oil for a few minutes, and throw in some nuts or beans along with some dried fruit. The dried fruit does not have to be a super-sugary dried fruit, but a little sweetness to counterbalance savory flavors is always nice.
After you’ve added water and cooked the grains thoroughly, turn off the heat and toss in some cheese and fresh herbs. For pilafs, I prefer a crumbly cheese, such as feta, ricotta salata or gorgonzola. As for herbs, anything goes. Be careful not to overdo it with the more powerful herbs.
Quinoa pilaf with chickpeas, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 1 hour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1/2 cup roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup drained cooked chickpeas
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Put the olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the leek and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the quinoa and stir until it dries out and begins to stick together, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the chickpeas and 3 cups of water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then cover the pot and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently. Cook until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid and is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the feta and dill, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. (Store leftover quinoa pilaf in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to several days.)