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Not So Naked Quinoa

(post, Angela Roberts)

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Roasting quinoa continues to be my favorite way to eat this grain that is not really a grain, but  a seed. Confused? Probably because it assumes the grain persona. You cook it by boiling it and then you use it as you would any grain. 

This is an ancient food that could be THE food of the moment, because it’s perfect protein, has a low glycemic index, and is gluten free. 

The only problem I see with quinoa is that it can get a bit boring and bland. I know you could say the same thing about rice, but quinoa cooks up almost like a porridge, and that is not a texture as easily adaptable to some recipes as other grains. 

Unless,  you take a different approach, and roast it. The quinoa is first cooked, then flattened into a pan and roasted in a hot oven. The quinoa becomes very crispy and nutty and pairs wonderfully with grilled vegetables, or salad greens. 

I first got this idea back in January when I fell in love with using cast iron, and made an amazing wintery dish with butternut squash.  

I’m at it again because Culinate has proposed to its readers a naked grains challenge. 

I used Mediterranean flavors and incorporated this into my series on purple foods using red onion and eggplant.  Red onions are high in flavenoids and are much more than just “flavor” contributors. The use of vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants with quinoa, which has all nine essential amino acids takes healthy to new level, while delivery lots of flavor, texture and satisfaction. 

While you are cooking the quinoa on top of the stove, you can grill the vegetables. I chose red bell pepper, red onion, grilled fennel and breaded eggplant, but you could easily use any variety of grilled vegetables. If you want to be completely gluten free, the eggplant can also be grilled. The capers add enough bite and tang as there is no dressing necessary for this salad. I topped it with the last of our basil, and some chopped herbs from the fresh fennel,  but you could certainly take your herbs in another direction, with thyme, rosemary or even parsley.   

The lovely thing about a dish like this is that it is complete and needs nothing else. 

One other variation of this uses more quinoa, and fluffs it up a bit, making a layered look. 

Recipe (4-6 Servings)

3 C uncooked quinoa
6 C salted water
3/4 C grated parmigiano reggiano
2 T capers
extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper

1 fennel bulb, sliced crosswise
1 red bell pepper, seeded, sliced crosswise (optionally use red and green)
I small eggplant, sliced, sweated,
1 egg beaten (for eggplant) (skip if grilling eggplant)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (skip if grilling eggplant)
1 red onion, sliced cross wise
A few torn basil leaves or several thyme sprigs removed from stem or parsley
Sea salt,freshly ground pepper
To cook quinoa prior to roasting:
Rinse several times really well. This is an important step to rid quinoa of
soapy saponin, which if not rinsed well, and will emit a bitter taste. 
The ratio for cooking is 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa.
Once rinsed, add to salted water, bring to boil, lower heat, cover and
simmer for 15 minutes.
Once cooked, add 1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, a drizzle of olive oil, season
with salt and pepper.
Allow to cool enough so you can handle, because the
next step is done with your hands.

To roast quinoa:
Using a cast iron pan, pizza stone, or parchment paper and baking sheet. 
Press quinoa with palm of your hands, keeping it together in one form, about 3/4 inch high.

Roast quinoa in hot oven of 425 degrees.   Turn after 10-15
minutes once you see edges browning. Don't worry about keeping it all
together. Just use as large a spatula as you have and turn it over to
continue until the top is toasted.  

Grilled vegetables
Brush with olive oil and grill either on grill pan, or outside gas grill until done.
Sweat eggplant first, by salting both sides, placing on paper towels, for 30 minutes.
Rinse off excess salt. Dry. 
Eggplant is dipped into egg and then panko and fried in pan until crispy on both sides. 
Optionally, grill eggplant.

Arrange vegetables stacks, using either one layer of quinoa or alternating quinoa with some of the vegetables, adding in capers. Add in herbs of choice.

Optional Garnish: Add a drizzle of olive oil if necessary, and some grated cheese. 

Serve immediately or at room temperature.
This is best eaten at room temperature, or warm.