Tuesday, August 24, 2010

lemon cranberry quinoa salad

     For a while, Wholefoods was offering a delicious quinoa salad in their prepared foods section. When I ate lunch there, I invariably chose this dish because I would be craving that sweet-tart flavor (and probably the nutritional value of the quinoa) at all other times, and eventually I started buying larger quantities to bring home for the rest of the week. However, the retail price of $8.99 per pound (!) was really starting to add up. On top of that, they didn't always have it, so sometimes I was left standing there in front of the case, hoping upon hope that I had just missed it the first time I looked, scanning the dishes over and over again until I resigned myself, dejectedly, to finding something else to eat.
     In an attempt to make this menu item more readily available and economically sustainable for me, I wrote the store an e-mail requesting the recipe. Although I received a prompt, polite response from the store manager, I was disappointed - dismayed, even - with the answer. Apparently, they were "unable" to share the recipe. That was hard to swallow, because "lemon cranberry quinoa" had become my favorite thing to eat and because I had heretofore been spoiled by the helpfulness of the Wholefoods staff. This policy, however, was blatantly, purposefully unhelpful.
     Since seeking employment at Wholefoods solely to acquire this recipe seemed a little too extreme, Plan B was to try to figure it out myself. Although I had the list of ingredients from the print-out label that the employee stuck on the container, this task was not as easy as it might sound; proportions are everything. Yet finally, after multiple attempts that fell tragically short of the original, I have come up with a very acceptable re-creation. Perhaps there is no greater teacher than the process of trial and error.
     All melodrama aside, now I make this almost every week, and I am proud and excited to share it with you. 

1 cup yellow quinoa
1 cup water
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 T. ground coriander
1/2 T. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. sea salt
pepper to taste
Half a red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 bunch (about six) green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 large handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Soak your quinoa in a bowl of water and rub the quinoa between your fingers a bit to help remove the bitter-tasting saponin that the seed uses as its natural defense against insects. Rinse and drain the quinoa a few more times before cooking.
Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a covered saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer for 13 minutes. Set a timer, because mushy, overcooked quinoa really doesn't work for this recipe. If, after 13 minutes, there is still any water left in the saucepan, drain it. Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and allow it to cool.
Toss the cooked quinoa with the lemon juice. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and stir to coat evenly. Add the pepper, green onions, cranberries and cilantro and stir to combine.

You can serve this at room temperature or chilled. I usually double this recipe because it keeps well for several days in the fridge and I love having it on hand for lunch. My husband likes to take it with him to work for lunch, too.

For more on the benefits of quinoa, see our previous post on pesto grilled vegetables with Israeli couscous, quinoa and baby chickpeas.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

multigrain blueberry pancakes

"He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes.
- Maltese proverb

Every once in a while on a Sunday morning I'll wake up with an appetite for some pancakes. Although nothing really compares to making pancakes from scratch, Arrowhead Mills makes a delicious Multigrain Pancake and Waffle Mix that is quick and simple to throw together when I'm still bleary-eyed and hungry after sleeping in. This way I can have my pancakes... and my lazy morning, too.

I initially chose this mix because it does not contain eggs, nor does it call for any. It is not vegan because it contains buttermilk and whey, but if, like me, you're trying to keep the eggs and dairy in your diet to a minimum, this is a great choice. The pancakes are delicious, with a bit of a cornmeal flavor that I love. All you need to add is almond milk (or soy or rice milk) and oil. I use grape seed oil because it has a neutral flavor and because it is known to have some health benefits, such as increasing antioxidant levels in the body. As an aside, you may have heard that there is some controversy about negative health effects associated with another common choice, Canola oil. Canola oil (initially a trademarked term, which is why it is capitalized) is extracted from a genetically engineered version of the rapeseed plant, but the claims about its detrimental effects are widely disputed. Because the idea of genetically modified food freaks me out a little, while the jury is still out I'll stick to grape seeds.

Combine 1 1/2 cups of the pancake mix with 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil and 1 cup of almond milk, adding more milk as necessary. Just before cooking, stir a half cup of fresh blueberries into the batter. (If you're using frozen blueberries, soak them in some hot water for a few minutes to defrost before using.) Then proceed as usual to cook the batter. This makes enough pancakes for two people.

I like to serve the pancakes with some fresh orange banana pineapple juice, which I make in my VitaMix blender. I'll write a separate post soon on making juice with a VitaMix, so for now I will just say this: Unlike other kinds of juicers, which extract primarily only the fruit's water and sugar for you to drink, leaving the pulp fiber behind for the garbage, the VitaMix is able to liquify the whole fruit, including the fiber and skins - where most of the nutrients reside - so your juice is much more nutritious.

Serve these pancakes topped with extra blueberries and some nice maple syrup or raw honey.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

roasted root veggies

One of my most used recipes is this one for roasted root vegetables out of the How to Cook Everything cookbook by Mark Bittman. It is very easy, very customizable, and the end result looks a little fancy and is delicious. I love that I can choose whatever vegetables appeal to me. I take the author's advice and usually include carrots and onions in the mix along with some kind of potatoes. I personally also try to always add turnips and rutabagas, since I don't use these great tubers enough otherwise.

For the batch I prepared and photographed above, I used a mix of fingerling potatoes and miniature onions procured from the Molto Farmer's Market here in Las Vegas. This weekly event was started by Mario Batali and his restaurant team as a way to bring fresh sustainable produce to the area. On the day Stefanie and I visited, we also picked up some purple carrots, black radishes, fermented black garlic (heavenly!), heirloom tomatoes, and some other wonderful treats.

Regarding the recipe, you will see that the directions are specific about the quantity of vegetables to use, but for a long time I have measured by how much will fill my 10-inch cast iron skillet. Of course, cast-iron isn't required, but I do think it is the best choice if you have one because some magic happens there. The other personal touch I have been adding lately is improvising a mustard sauce to have on the side. If you are interested, I give some approximate proportions for that at the end.

Roasted Root Vegetables

4 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. mixed root vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, shallots (leave whole), and onions, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch chunks
Several sprigs fresh thyme or about 1 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 head garlic, broken into cloves (Leave the garlic unpeeled.
You peel each clove before you eat it.)
Minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the olive oil in a large roasting pan on top of the stove and turn the heat to low. When the oil is hot, add all the vegetables (except the garlic), along with the thyme or rosemary. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and cook them briefly, shaking and stirring so that everything is coated with oil. Place the pan in the oven.
2. Cook for 30 minutes, opening the oven and shaking the pan once or twice during this period. Add the garlic and stir the vegetables up; at this point they should be starting to brown. If they are not, raise the oven temperature to 450°F.
3. Continue to cook, stirring and shaking every 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender and nicely browned, at least another half hour. If the vegetables soften before they brown, just run them under the broiler for a minute or two. If they brown before they soften, add a few Tbs. of water to the pan and turn the heat down to 350°.
4. Garnish and serve hot or at room temperature.

Simple Mustard Sauce
6 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
Whisk ingredients together until they are completely amalgamated into a creamy sauce. A small blender like the Magic Bullet is ideal here.