How do I love quinoa? Let me count the ways: it’s a whole grain that’s actually a seed (I wrote an article for NPR in 2007 – my first-ever food story~! – identifying quinoa as a ‘whole grain’ and was not-so-politely informed by several readers it is in fact a seed. So: quinoa = seed. Though why quibble? I just call it ‘good’.); it’s loaded with protein; it’s a vegan’s (and vegetarian) saving grace/daydream; it can be served in a sweet or savory preparation; it’s fairly easy and quick to prepare; did I mention it’s good and good for you?
I haven’t written about quinoa since last June – nearly a year ago. That’s far too too long ago. Plus, it’s been all sweets all the time here lately and lest I give the impression I lounge around nibbling cake and drinking tea and spooning rhubarb compote into my gaping maw as fast as I possibly can … there’s a lot of vegetable action going on, too. Like last night: we ate brown rice topped with sesame-fried tofu, sauteed chard, and steamed broccoli (plus some sunflower seeds, which I can’t seem to get enough of lately). And last weekend: I had a single-girl couple of days wherein I basically just ate vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables (plus a bit of cheese, of course) non-stop.
Saturday night was a really sort of beautiful night: I’d done all my little errands of farmers’ marketing and visiting my little organic store and gazed happily at my stack of library books. I’d drunk numerous cups of tea and done the laundry (these things make me feel very satisfied, it’s true). I’d made myself a pile of nachos (black beans, the last of an avocado, sour cream) for a late-afternoon snack and stretched out on the couch after, sipping sparkling water and listening to the classic rock station. It was very quiet, other than the radio, and though I was surprised to find I was perhaps the tiniest bit lonely I savored that loneliness a bit. After all, I used to live alone all the time – it’s a peculiar pleasure to be gifted a few days here and there of alone-time, of quiet-time, of eating-whatever-I-like-when-I-like-to time. (Not that I want it all the time, just … if one’s husband is out of town and one is left to one’s own devices it’s not always bad.) If that makes sense. I cooked a lot and exercised a lot and read a lot and took a lot of photos. The simple things, always.
The best thing I could think of to do after all that was to make a new (to me) quinoa recipe I’d come across via Gourmet (online). As quinoa is my enduring obsession and love, I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it. Crazy as this may sound, quinoa to me means comfort – familiar, soothing, my favorite thing. When I punched it up with lemon zest, green onions, loads of of chopped mint, a generous handful of salty feta cheese, and topped it off with sunflower seeds, it also meant dinner.
And, lord, it was so good. I ate two full bowls that night, just that and nothing else. (Who could have wanted anything else?) It was so good I made it again for my book club on Tuesday night to counter the chocolate chips cookies and cheese we also consumed. And I’m seriously considering making it as part of this week’s Sunday dinner, though I’ll have to restrain myself after that so I don’t burn out on it. But! It’s my New Favorite Quinoa Dish, light yet satisfying, truly, utterly spring. Perfect for the warmer days easing in throughout most of the country except San Francisco (whinge) – though truth be told today is absolutely glorious – and the upcoming summer season of potlucks and barbecues just around the corner.
Or, you know, just any Saturday night.
Lemon-Scented Quinoa with Scallions and Mint
Adapted from Gourmet
Here’s the thing: I’ve been cooking quinoa for about half my life (!) at this point, and I’ve always cooked it like rice in a 1:2 quinoa/water ratio. You know how it can sometimes get kind of mushy that way? Yeah. No. Try the method of boil/steam detailed here – I bet you’ll never go back. I don’t think I will. It adds about 5 minutes of cook time and about 2 minutes more of effort but in my mind 7 minutes (you can do things like make a green salad, watch the Giants game, stretch, fetch the laundry) is really not that big of a deal when the reward is totally un-mushy, totally fluffy, totally delightful quinoa (a result of it being boiled until just tender and then steamed the rest of the way). It’s quinoa with integrity, if you know what I mean. And it’s crazy delicious.
Makes 8 servings
2 c. (about 10 oz.) quinoa
Lemon zest from two (organic) lemons
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (I used the juice from both)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint (or more to taste)
1 cup (or so) crumbled feta cheese
handful sunflower seeds
Rinse the quinoa in three changes of cold water to remove any bitter coating. Bring a 4- to 5- quart pot of salted water to a boil, add the quinoa, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until just slightly tender.
Drain the quinoa in a sieve, then set the sieve over an inch of simmering water in the same pot. (Make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the sieve.) Cover the quinoa with a folded kitchen towel and cover the whole thing with a lid. Steam until the quinoa is tender, fluffy, and dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, still covered, for another 3-5 minutes. Place in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, oil, honey, salt and pepper. Gently fold the dressing into the quinoa with a rubber spatula, then fold in the scallions, mint and feta. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls at room temperature, with sunflower seeds scattered atop each.