The Quinoa Project

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I don’t know how or why I have stayed away from this grain.  I recently tried quinoa and I’m in love!  I have so many ideas as to how to begin incorporating it into everyday dishes.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is considered to be a “superfood.”  Nutritionally, it’s a very complete food.  It is:

  • Very high in protein
  • Full of vitamins
  • Gluten- and wheat-free
  • Cholesterol-free
  • Delicious

Quinoa comes from a plant native to the Andes Mountains in South America and has been around for thousands of years.  It contains more protein than any other grain and should be considered for vegetarians or vegans who might be concerned about the level of protein in their diets.

What does it look like?  It’s a tiny round grain with a band around it that ends with a tiny “tail.”  As it cooks, the tail unwinds and detaches itself, leaving a white ring on the grain.

There are several different varieties of quinoa and it is available in grain, flour, and flakes. Once relegated to health food stores, you can find it just about anywhere now.

Substitute quinoa in any dish calling for rice, couscous, or even pasta.  It can also be used in soups, salads, baking, and even in sweets.

One method of cooking quinoa is to treat it as you would rice.  Use two cups liquid (water, chicken/vegetable broth) to one cup of quinoa, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Add herbs and seasoning as desired in order to make a variety of dishes.

I’ve made a few very simple savory dishes using quinoa.  At some point, though, I will also try some more complex ones, as well as a sweet dish/dessert and will post the results.  Hence the name of this article. 🙂

The other night, I made for dinner quinoa with roasted chicken, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and chives.   Totally healthy…and delish.

Quinoa with roasted chicken, tomatoes, olives, onions, parsley, and chives

Last night, I made some chicken, and as a side I made the dish below.  It serves 4 as a main dish, or you can halve the recipe as I did, and it will serve 4 as a nice side dish.

Stuffed Peppers with Olives and Tomatoes

(Serves 4 as a main dish)

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 peppers (green, red, yellow, or orange)
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, squeezed of pulp and chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 10 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Water
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the quinoa in a saucepan with the water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all of the water is absorbed.

Cut the peppers in half, lengthwise.  Remove seeds and membranes.

In a bowl, mix together the cooked quinoa, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, olives, salt and pepper.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the peppers and place in a baking dish.  Pour about 1/2 inch of water on the bottom of the baking dish.  Drizzle olive oil over the peppers.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the quinoa stuffing is golden brown and the peppers are soft.

Stuffed Peppers with Olives and Tomatoes

A Taste of the Middle East….Right at Home (Part II)

I went to my local library the other day and took out a few cookbooks that I wanted to flip through since I’d likely be indoors because they were forecasting extremely cold weather this weekend. One was called “The Iraqi Cookbook” by Lamees Ibrahim. It caught my eye on the shelf because it is a large, gorgeously photographed book:

It is filled with traditional recipes that have been handed down through the generations. The book was written with the goal of bringing these recipes to the diaspora — perhaps those who can no longer read Arabic cookbooks, or those who grew up in Western households who didn’t learn how to cook these traditional meals.

The author uses mainly ingredients available to Western readers, as well as gives useful tips. She also suggests appropriate substitutions when necessary. Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful color photo, making this cookbook a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite.

One recipe that caught my attention was Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan), a wonderful “turnover” dish made of layers of rice, ground meat, onions, tomatoes, peppers with eggplant at the bottom of the pot. The pot is then inverted onto a plate for an impressive presentation.

The first time I made this, I failed miserably by overcooking the rice. It’s not a hard recipe, however. So, today I tried again and it came out perfectly. I made about 1/3 of the recipe below, and it’s still enough for three people.

What I learned:

1. As you layer the saucepan with the different ingredients, press each layer down firmly, otherwise when you add the water , everything will float up and it will become a soup. When making this the second time, after I layered and pressed each layer, I took a small plate and placed it on top and pressed the ingredients down one final time.

2. Don’t add too much water. Use only as much as the recipe indicates, even if it doesn’t look like enough. Add it slowly.

3. Do not overcook the rice!

I skipped soaking the eggplant and used drained canned chopped tomatoes instead of the paste and fresh tomatoes. I added slivered almonds to the rice for additional texture. You could probably also add raisins or another dried fruit into the rice for a bit of sweetness.

The dish was delicious.

Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan)

(serves 6-8)

  • 3 cups rice
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp mixed spices (garam masala, see below)
  • 2 tbsp fresh or dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3 green peppers
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
Slice the eggplants into round discs about 1/2 inch thick. Soak in heavily salted water for at least one hour.
Chop the onions and saute for a few minutes until soft. Add the ground meat and cook for a few minutes. Add the garlic, the mixed spices, the parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until fully cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
Drain the eggplant and wash in cold water and dry. Place some olive oil in the pan and lightly fry the eggplant on both sides.
Line the eggplant slices at the bottom of a sauce pan. Add the meat mixture.
Chop the tomatoes and peppers. Mix together and add as the third layer.
Rinse the rice in cold water a few times. Add to the top of the tomato and pepper mixture.
Add 4 cups of water, or until the water is just above the level of the rice. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Using a large platter, place it on top of the pan. Hold firmly and turn it upside down. Serve immediately.
Garam Masala

There’s no need to run out and buy this spice. You can make it at home. It’s simply a mixture of spices you most likely have. I had all except the cloves, but that’s fine. The recipe below makes about 1/4 cup.

  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dry place.

The Big Waste

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of the Food Network anymore. The quality of their programming, with the exception of perhaps one or two programs (i.e., Chopped, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef), has gone down dramatically over the years, leaving us now with a lot of “competition” programming as well as very few programs offering how to cook quality, healthy meals.

However, this past Sunday night, there was an impressive program on called “The Big Waste,” which was very enjoyable as well as an eye-opener to the problem of food waste in this country. The program was set up as a competition between two teams of two chefs, and the challenge was to make a three course meal for 100 consisting only of foods that were unwanted or deemed unfit to be sold (i.e., food that was heading for the trash or compost pile). I kind of wish that it was less of a competition and more of a documentary, but I still learned a lot from watching it.

The chefs went to different markets, shops, and farms to collect food. They had expected to get scraps of meat or vegetables, but instead they got a lot more than they bargained for. The food industry in the US throws out a LOT of food as waste — to the tune of 27 million tons of edible food being tossed, sometimes for reasons as inconsequential as a bruise or a spot on an otherwise perfect fruit or vegetable. This figure is totally shocking and heart-breaking to hear when you know that hunger is a big problem in this country. Even throughout the world as a whole, one-third of food is wasted — this includes markets, farms, factories, restaurants, and homes.

One of the chefs collected bushels of perfectly good corn that was going to be discarded simply because the wind knocked down the stalks. Another chef collected coolers full of fresh chickens that could not be sold simply because the skin was torn or a leg/wing was broken during the slaughtering process — she was told that American consumers would not consider buying these chickens because they might think that the bird had been sick. (Sidenote: the chicken farm was a small one, where it is too expensive to further break down these chickens and sell them as parts. Larger processing facilities do, in fact, do this.) A third chef collected dozens of fresh eggs from a henhouse because they didn’t conform to a standard size (some were too big and some were tiny) or a standard color (some were blue), but otherwise perfectly good.

The chefs also met a man who calls himself a “freegan” (a new word that I learned), who dumpster-dives for his food. Food establishments often discard food that is in perfectly good condition, many times because it is approaching its “sell by” date or where the packaging has been damaged. Freegans find these foods in the garbage of these establishments, believing that they are keeping edible food from adding to landfills and that can also feed people who might otherwise go hungry.

After watching this, I will be looking at foods, especially fruits and vegetables, from a different perspective now when I go to the market.

It was difficult to swallow some of the facts that were presented. This was such an informative program, however, that I highly recommend watching it when it re-airs again this weekend.


Vegetarian-in-a-Bowl

I was looking to clean out my pantry and use up some veggies that I’ve had in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and put together this recipe.  I was craving Indian/Middle Eastern flavors (which you know I love) and put this together.  While I listed the exact ingredients I used below, you can substitute olive oil for the sesame and you can use any starch other than potato (perhaps a sweet potato or maybe a rutabaga).  I had only baby spinach, but I think kale would also be nice in this.

This is a relatively healthy dish, the only fat is in the oil, which is minimal.  The rest of the dish is vegetarian, and in fact vegan.  Adjust the spices as you like.

I served it over some whole-grain couscous for a nice meal.  Although this ideally serves two people, it is probably enough for three, as I had it for dinner, then again for lunch the next two days.

Indian Chickpea Bowl

(serves 2)

  • 1/2 onion, diced,
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil (other oil may be substituted)
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • One 15 oz can of chickpeas
  • 1 small red potato (sweet potato or rutabaga can be substituted), diced
  • 2 carrots, sliced or diced
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 8 oz baby spinach

Saute the onion in the oil on medium-high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the ginger and saute for another minute and then add garlic. Sprinkle the salt while cooking.

Add the can of chickpeas (including the liquid), carrots, diced potato, tomato paste and spices. Bring to a low boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

Add the greens, cover and cook for 5 more minutes.

A Little Cheese Plate in One Bite

Wondering why things look a bit different around here? Well, it’s a new year, so I thought I’d give the site a bit of a facelift. Change is good. While I liked the previous theme, I didn’t think it felt right for a food blog. It was too “serious”. So I have been experimenting with some other themes. This current one seems a little more relaxed. However, I am still experimenting with others, so more changes may come.

I made these little cuties over the holidays. (The pictures aren’t that sharp because I took them with my cell phone instead of my camera.) They’re the perfect combination of sweet and savory, a little cheese plate wrapped up in one little bite. They’re a great appetizer and would be great for a wine or cocktail party.

They are so quick and simple to make and contain only 5 ingredients. While the recipe calls for fig preserves, you can use whatever you like or have on hand. I refrigerated the dough before rolling it out because I felt it was too soft, and it worked perfectly.

Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries

(Adapted from a recipe found on Food52)

Makes about 3 dozen

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp fig preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the flour, butter, blue cheese, and a few grinds of black pepper in a food processor. Process until the dough comes together and starts to form a ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull it together. Roll it out to approximately 1/8 inch with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and place the rounds on the baking sheet.

Using the back of a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indentation in the top of each dough round. Spoon about 1/4 tsp of fig preserves into each indentation, using your finger to push the preserves as best as you can into the indentation.

Bake 10-15 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

You can make these a day ahead and keep them in an airtight container in two layers separated by wax paper.

1000 Hits….Wow!

What a way to start the new year!  As of this morning, I have had over 1,000 hits on this site.  Although it’s quite a small number in the macrocosm that is the internet (as well as compared to other blogs), I am so overjoyed!  It’s about 950 more hits than I ever expected to receive.  I also have followers – people who are actually interested in what I have to say and do!

When I first set out and created this site in the spring, I did it as a way to share some of my favorite recipes, to share some new recipes, as well as to write about various topics that I found interesting.  Along the way, I have read and started following other blogs and have also met (virtually-speaking) others who love to cook as well. I have also been inspired to try new foods that I may not have otherwise tried.

Thank you all for your support over the past several months.  Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

(Remember, you can sign up to get automatic email updates whenever I post something new.  Just enter your email address under the “Follow Blog via Email” section to the right of your screen.)

By the way, the picture above is that of a Vasilopita, which is a traditional New Year’s day bread in Greece as well as other parts of Eastern Europe.   Inside contains a hidden coin which is said to give good luck to the person who receives it.  There are different recipes.  However, my favorite is the one I mentioned a few months back.  Click here.

Sardines – The Misunderstood Fish

 

Fresh sardines at the market

 
Sardines are an underrated culinary pleasure – they definitely don’t enjoy nearly the same status as salmon, for example.  I’m not talking about the little ones that are packed into a little tin.  I mean fresh sardines, which have a lot of good things going for them:
  • They’re healthy:  Sardines have more omega-3 fatty acids than almost any other fish. They’re also packed with  calcium and protein.
  • They’re affordable:  They are much cheaper than most local seafood, you can buy them around $4-$5/lb.  in season.
  • They’re safe:  Sardines are harvested when they’re only a few years old, so they don’t accumulate the mercury levels that tuna and other slow-growing fish acquire.
  • They’re a sustainable seafood:  Sardines reproduce quickly, so they don’t face the threat of overfishing that other more popular fish do.

Fresh sardines also don’t taste anywhere near the same way that canned do.  Trust me, they’re better.

Finding fresh sardines is a good reason to drop everything and run to the market.   They’re usually available in the summer, but you might be able to find them as late in the season as early December, if you’re lucky.  You should eat them the day that you buy them, because they’re not always available at the market (even in season) and you don’t know when you’ll see them again.  Because they are high in omega-3s, they tend to spoil faster than other fish.  They also don’t freeze well.

I had seen fresh sardines at the market early in the summer and I didn’t buy them.  It was 7 months before I saw them again this week, and while I overpaid for them (at Whole Foods, no less), they were worth the cost.  Whenever I see them at a restaurant (which, sadly, is rare), I’ll order them.

As I have said in the past, with seafood, simplicity is key.  The best way to eat fresh sardines is either grilled with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper; or my favorite way: lightly dusted with a mixture of flour, salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper and then fried in a touch of olive oil in a skillet (2-3 minutes per side).  Don’t forget a nice squirt of lemon over the top.

Lightly dust with flour, salt, and cayenne pepper. Shake excess off.

 

Cook for about 3 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcook.

 
 

Enjoy sardines the day you buy them, because you don't know when you'll see them again.

 
 

Spanakopita…Eat Greek Tonight

Spanakopita is one of the most popular snacks in Greece.  It’s relatively healthy, tastes delicious and can be eaten anytime of the day…even for breakfast…cold…yum!

I made this for Thanksgiving and it was the first thing to go.

Spanakopita

Makes two 12×9 inch pans.  Make one for now and freeze the second one.

  • 3 lbs. spinach, chopped (you can substitute frozen, thawed well)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 large onions, diced
  • 2 bunches green onions, diced (incl. 4 inches green)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or 3 tbsp dried parsley)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 lb. cottage cheese (or ricotta)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb. phyllo pastry sheets

Wash and drain the chopped spinach. If you use frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out excess water. The spinach should be dry.

Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan. Saute the onions and green onions until tender.

Add the spinach and parsley, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the spinach is wilted and heated through.  If you’re using frozen spinach, cook until the excess moisture evaporates.  The spinach mixture should be on the dry side.  Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the feta, eggs, and cottage (or ricotta) cheese. Add the cooled spinach mixture and mix until well combined.

Combine the melted butter with the olive oil in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, grease two 9 x 12 rectangular pans.

Carefully remove the phyllo from the plastic sleeve. Most packages come in 12 x 18 inch sheets when opened fully. Using scissors or a sharp knife, cut the sheets in half to make two stacks of 9×12 inch sheets. To prevent drying, cover one stack with wax paper and a damp paper towel while working with the other.

Working quickly, Layer about 10 sheets on the bottom of the pan and brush each sheet with the butter/olive oil mixture. Add half of the spinach mixture in an even layer and press with a spatula to flatten.

Layer another 10 sheets on top of the spinach mixture, again brushing each sheet well with the butter/olive oil mixture. Repeat the process with the second pan.

Before baking, score the top layer of phyllo (making sure not to puncture filling layer) to enable easier cutting of pieces later.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the spanakopita turns a deep golden brown. If the pita is frozen when you put it in the oven, you will need approximately 60 minutes cooking time. If it’s fresh, cook for approximately 40-45 minutes.   All ovens vary, so keep an eye on it.

Soup’s On! (Je Soupçonne)

It’s getting cold out….and if you live in the Northeast, then it’s about time! Not that I’m complaining about the 65 degree weather we are having this late in the year, but it just feels so strange to be walking outside with just a sweater in late November.

Anyway, the forecast reads mid-40s for the next few days. I know that’s amateur cold weather, but it’s still cold. So,wrap a blanket around yourself, put on a cute pair of socks and let’s make some soup!

This soup is a-maz-ing! It’s so delicious! Although the original recipe wasn’t particularly spicy, I have adjusted the amounts of the spices. However, feel free to adjust to your liking, whether it’s milder or spicier.

Je soupçonne que vous allez adorer cette soupe!

Spiced Coconut Lentil Soup

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • One-inch piece of peeled ginger, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Pink Himalayan salt
  • Black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime

In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, season, cover and allow to soften for several minutes. To the pan, add the minced ginger and garlic, along with the chili flakes. Cook for a few more minutes until the flavors begin to infuse.

Add the lentils and carrots along with the chili powder, paprika, and cumin. Stir thoroughly until the lentils are coated. Pour in the coconut milk and water. Taste and season with some more salt and pepper.

Cover, bring to the boil and then lower to a simmer for forty minutes, stirring frequently.

Juice the lime and set aside.

When the lentils have softened and almost disintegrated to form a thick, creamy soup, take the saucepan off the heat, pour in the lime juice, taste for seasoning, and serve with a few fresh coriander leaves or strips of lime zest for garnish.

I Love Cardamom

I love cardamom. Have I told you that? It’s my new favorite spice in the kitchen. I first began using this spice about a year ago when I made a dish of Afghan dumplings with lamb kofta. I decided to just toss a bit in there and was amazed at the aroma and the sweet flavor that it infused throughout the dish. Since then, I’ve used it wherever possible in cakes, breads, etc., as well as in recipes calling for ground meat.

Cardamom comes from the ginger family and has a really intense, fragrant, sweet flavor. In India, it’s traditionally used in curries; and in Scandinavian countries, where it is more popular than cinnamon, it is commonly added to breads. However, most of the world’s cardamom is used in Arabic countries as a flavoring for coffee.

A small amount of cardamom adds a lot of flavor, so I’d start with 1/4 tsp and add from there.

Because I’m still pretty limited in activity due to my ankle surgery, I was home all afternoon. I was in the mood to bake so I looked in my cabinets and came up with this recipe for spiced cookies.

Enjoy!

Spiced Date Almond Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar (half white, half brown)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dates
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Cream together the butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time. Sift together all of the dry ingredients: the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom and add slowly to the butter mixture. Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dates and water. Add, along with the almonds, to the rest of the batter.

Very gently, roll tablespoon-sized amounts of batter into a ball and place on baking sheet, leaving about two inches between cookies. Using the back of a spoon gently flatten the cookies slightly. (Hint: wet the spoon so it doesn’t stick to the batter.) Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cook slightly for five minutes on the baking sheets and then place on a rack until fully cooled.

Do not overbake.