Quinoa’s supernutritional status is hardly breaking news, but I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of it until a few years ago, when tv holistic nutritionist Gillian McKeith (or ‘evil harridan’ as we like to call her – and I don’t like being rude about people unnecessarily) starting singing its praises at every opportunity. I did try a quinoa porridge for breakfast for a while, and it was ok, but I hadn’t dared bring it into our supper dishes for fear of bringing down a tirade from The Scientist about That McKeith Woman. (To be fair to him, while I do have one of her cookbooks and like a few of the recipes, I agree that she calls for an annoyingly specialist and expensive range of ingredients which the average person would surely never have in their kitchen. And she’s as annoying as I don’t know what. Personally I wouldn't encourage her by visiting her website. I just went there to get the link and got out again as fast as I could). He was swayed by the superfoods idea though, so I snuck a bag of red quinoa into our shopping basket when we popped into the health food shop in Lewes last weekend. I think he would have let me slip anything in there as long as I hurried up and got us both out of the shop (that’s how the agave nectar got in too, and the chocolate flavour milk-from-a-bean).
I picked a recipe from another Food Doctor book to try out our new superfood: a roast vegetable quinoa pilaf. The original recipe had courgettes in it too, but I had to leave them out as they’re on the list of Scientist nasties. It also called for grilling the peppers separately but I thought that was an unnecessary faff, and roasted them with the tomatoes (which I left in for longer than it said to get them nice and juicy). The Scientist supplemented his with salmon, which is also a superfood but I’m not letting him count it as we didn’t both get the benefits :). We both really liked the pilaf though. The texture of the quinoa surprised us – I was expecting something like couscous, but it’s quite ‘springy’, and really quite different. The different veggies all added nice roasted flavours, while the cinnamonny red onion not only smelt nice but added a good sweetness, too. I added a little bit of goat’s cheese to mine, but it was nice without as well. I halved the recipe but it could easily have served three if not four people anyway. I’m considering having leftovers with a poached egg on the top for lunch tomorrow. Best of all, the super nutritional qualities of quinoa have made it a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights. The Scientist doesn’t know that yet – I only just found it on Wikipedia, but I suspect that’s going to make up for The McKeith Effect.
Roast Vegetable Quinoa Pilaf (slightly adapted from The Food Doctor Everyday Diet Cookbook)
Serves 4 (the author suggests serving it as a side with grilled meat or fish, or as a veggie main course. I halved these quantities and it still served at least 3)
Splash of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
400g quinoa, rinsed and drained
4 or 5 plum tomatoes (the original suggested baby ones)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow pepper
2 medium red onions, finely sliced
A few squeezes of lemon juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbps fresh mint, chopped (I didn’t have any and forgot to add any dried in the end)
Heat oil in a large pan. Soften the onion over a low hear, add the garlic and stir. Add the drained quinoa, stir for a minute, then add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 mins, by which time the stock will all be absorbed.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
Cut the tomatoes in half (or smaller if you’re using larger tomatoes), and chop the pepper. Put them on a baking tray, toss with 2 tbsp olive oil and season with black pepper. Roast in the oven for about 15 mins (or longer) until soft, with the juices running. When cooked, drizzle with the vinegar.
Heat another splash of oil in a frying pan, add red onion and cook over a low heat for about 10 mins, turning frequently until it starts turning brown. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and cook for another couple of minutes.Put the quinoa in a warmed bowl and toss with the tomatoes, pepper, lemon juice, vinegar and a little oil. Crumble some feta over the top if you wish, and serve with a mixed leaf salad