The Sacred Crop

Whenever I travel, I never eat as well as I’d like: I must admit I often give in to the easy allure of cheese, drink lots of coffee to combat jetlag, and forgo my usual breakfast oatmeal for bagels. But now I’m in San Francisco again, home after a quick trip to Washington, DC, and I’m back in the saddle, baby! After a few nights of restaurant fare, I am longing for a simple, home-cooked meal loaded with vegetables and protein. Tonight, I will make quinoa.

Quinoa has long been one of my very favorite grains. It’s currently in vogue — a quick search produced 24 results — but I’ll still be making it when the trend turns toward something more exotic. As a vegetarian, quinoa is especially appealing to me because it is a complete protein and can be prepared equally well as a savory or sweet (a variation of a breakfast cereal, with honey and dried fruit, is delicious) dish. I particularly love its texture — a bit nubbly and chewy, still firm after being cooked — and nutty, earthy flavor.

Quinoa has its origins in South America; the Incas believed it to be sacred and referred to the crop as “chisaya mama” or “mother of all grains.” I like to imagine the emperor sowing the season’s first crop, placing the grain on the high pedestal it so deserves. After all, the United Nations has classified it as a “supercrop” because of its high protein content. How many other foods can claim that lofty title?

I was inspired by a recipe in January Runner’s World magazine to change up my usual quinoa preparation by toasting the grains with garlic before adding cooking water. I altered the initial recipe a bit to add more vegetables and nuts, and I serve it with slabs of baked tofu alongside.

Garlic-toasted Quinoa (with veggies)

1 cup quinoa
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups stock or water
1 bay leaf
1 tb soy sauce
1 bunch spinach or chard, rinsed and chopped
10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup slivered almonds
salt and pepper to taste

Follow package directions to rinse quinoa. (If you buy loose quinoa, soak in water for one hour, rinse, then soak for 30 minutes.) Saute garlic in oil in a large pot cook over high heat for two minutes or until it is tender. Add quinoa and a little more oil as necessary. Reduce heat to medium and toast, stirring constantly, until the quinoa turns brown (about 10 minutes). Add stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (until liquid is absorbed). While the quinoa is cooking, saute the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the greens and cook until wilted. Remove bay leaf and add the mushroom and greens to the quinoa. Add the almonds, and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper and the soy sauce.

Serve with baked tofu, salad, or another green vegetable.

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023