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Quinoa: Just don't call it a grain

  • Article by: MELISSA CLARK
  • New York Times
  • April 30, 2014 - 3:00 PM

It took me a while to give my heart to quinoa.

Yes, quinoa is a superfood, full of protein, iron, fiber and an abundance of other attractive phytonutrients. And sure, it has a great back story: It was a staple food among the ancient inhabitants of the Andes, who cultivated the nutritious plant even at an elevation of 12,000 feet. Plus, it’s gluten-free, comes in several pretty colors and is not really so hard to pronounce (KEEN-wah, but you knew that).

And did I mention that it’s tasty? It’s gently nutty, pleasingly earthy, with a crunchy texture that still manages to be light.

Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not a grain. Botanically, it’s related to beets and spinach.

In the kitchen, quinoa cooks up quickly and very easily. Some people simmer it like rice in a small amount of water. I prefer the pasta method of boiling it vigorously in plenty of salted water, then draining. Both techniques will yield a similar result, but the pasta method allows you to avoid measuring. Either way, never overcook quinoa or you will get sodden mush. And don’t try mixing the colors (white, red and black) in one pot; they all have slightly different cooking times.

You can treat quinoa like a grain, serving it as a side dish, adding it to soups, simmering it into a pilaf or tossing it into a salad. In this recipe, I go the salad route, making enough to feed a crowd (you can halve the recipe if you’re not). Along with the quinoa, I add chewy currants and soft, roasted carrots seasoned with a hefty drizzle of sweet-tart pomegranate molasses. If you can’t find pomegranate molasses, which is available in large supermarkets and Middle Eastern specialty shops, a good-quality balsamic vinegar will also work. Try spiking the vinegar with a little honey if you like things on the sweeter side.

You can dress the quinoa several hours, or even a day, before serving. But don’t add the arugula until the last minute. You want it as fresh and sprightly as possible, a worthy partner for that fluffy quinoa. □

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