Two Resolutions: Quinoa

January 11, 2010

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.
~George Bernard Shaw

Now that the bubbly clinking and sloppy midnight kisses with bosses and wives have become faint memories, the time has come for many to pursue and accomplish those well intentioned yet often unattainable resolutions for the upcoming year. That annual ritual of setting goals for the new year—an effort to start afresh and recast our role in life—is now in the past. Now, we have to endure the tedium of making good on them. Lose weight, live for the day, find a mate, stop smoking, exercise more, cease biting your nails, get a promotion, find a job, quit your job, get a tattoo, have more sex, travel exotic, sleep more, drink less, bungee jump…and the list goes on.

Other primeval civilizations, including Babylonia, celebrated the vernal and autumnal equinoxes with revelrous festivals as a means of ringing in a new year. The western tradition of new year’s resolutions began in ancient Rome when worshippers offered resolutions of good conduct to the deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and guardian of doors and entrances. Always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, Janus could look backward and forward simultaneously—an innate skill sorely lacking in today’s politicians. When the Roman calendar was reformed, the first month of the year was renamed January in homage to Janus, establishing January 1 as the day of new beginnings. So, at midnight each December 31, the Romans envisaged Janus looking back at the old and forward to the new. Retrospect and foresight at once.

Unfortunately, studies have suggested that new year’s resolutions are often a pointless exercise. Few of us achieve them, and most revert to our previous bad habits. We break our carefully crafted resolutions of self-renewal and denial, and become dispirited, even despondent in the process. Some research has suggested that some 80% of adult Americans completely give up on their new goals by Valentine’s Day (especially the ones about finding mates or lovers). Many of those who fail neurotically focus on the downside of not achieving their declared goals.

Neither new year’s resolutions nor “how to’s” are my bag. And do not expect me to sermonize about “health food.” But, it has been suggested that those who do attain their resolutions usually choose specific and deliberate objectives which have staged or shortened deadlines and commonly treat occasional lapses in the plan as just temporary setbacks. A suggestion for those who absolutely demand resolutions for 2010? Shun the traditional deprivation diet with its woeful success rates and focus instead on eating well. Eat to savor, not to diet. Prepare a simple inventory of healthy foods, preparations and menu options…including a list of wellness foodstuffs (e.g., beets, swiss chard, legumes, nuts, avocados, blueberries) that you enjoy but have not been eating. Food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but not spartan or bland. Incorporate them as staples. Then, buy, cook, eat and repeat.

Well textured and slightly nutty flavored quinoa fits that 2010 resolution bill. And stylish to boot, with all those self enthralled Hollywood waifs scarfing up this mother seed of the Incas. From the plant Chenopodium quinoa, quinoa are actually seeds related to their hale and hardy cousins, beets, chard and spinach. Protein rich quinoa’s fully rounded amino acid profile is especially well endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. It is also a superb source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Now, on to my flagitious potato pancakes tonight.

QUINOA & CHICKPEAS

1 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1 t red pepper flakes

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
2 sprigs thyme

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

1 C canned chick peas, rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat, and add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Toast in the pan, stirring or shaking the pan, until they begin to smell fragrant, and transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add red pepper flakes and coarsely grind by pulsing in a spice or coffee mill. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and thyme. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to reach a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs. Set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, coriander and red pepper, and stir together for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the cooked quinoa and chick peas. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Mold the pilaf into ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate.

QUINOA WITH LEMON & HERBS

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
1 bay leaf

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3/4 C fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 t lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and bay leaf. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to create a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Season to tasted with salt and pepper, and serve.

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Eat leeks in March and wild garlic in May, and all year after physicians may play
~Old Welsh Rhyme/Proverb

The leek, Allium porrum, is a member of the onion family, but the flavor is much more refined, subtle, and sweet than the standard onion. Thought to be native to Mediterranean and/or Asian regions, leeks have been cultivated at least since the time of ancient Egyptians and are depicted in tomb paintings from that era. The Romans worshipped leeks, and Emperor Nero consumed so many he earned the name Porrophagus (leek eater) among his other more deservedly derisive nicknames; he posited that eating leeks would improve his singing voice.

Together, leeks and daffodils form the national emblem of Wales.

Leeks have long graced European tables in varying forms. During the last century, leeks began to curry favor in America, and are now an ever more utilized and prized culinary element now readily available in markets throughout the year.

In France, the leek is known as un poireau, which is ironically also used as a derogatory term meaning “simpleton”—a far cry from the truly sophisticated character of this critter.

Leeks are cultivated in spring, summer, autumn and winter months. They thrive in cooler climes and are tolerant to frost, which explains their popularity as a winter vegetable. However, late spring baby leeks are preferred here as they have yet to have become too fibrous—an affliction which occassionally plagues the larger, late season plants.

During the growing process, sandy soil is piled up around the base of the leek to encourage a long, thin, white base. This method makes them a dirt sponge, so cleaning them thoroughly is crucial or your guests will be treated to a gritty dish. Remove any tired or damaged outer leaves. Trim the rootlets at the base and cut off around a half to two thirds of the dark green tops. Slice the leeks down the center and rinse under cold running water to remove all dirt and sand, being careful to get in between the leaves; then drain on paper towels.

Overcooking leeks will render them slimy and mushy. So, they should be cooked until tender but still exert a little resistance when pierced.

Below are indoor and outdoor versions of this green jewel. In later posts, I will address other ways to play with this green, such as leek soup.

BRAISED LEEKS

6 large leeks
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T thyme leaves or 1/2 T dried thyme
1/2 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400

Peel any bruised outer layers from leeks. Trim rootlets, leaving root end intact. Trim off tops on diagonal, leaving two inches of green. Cut in half lengthwise. Rinse thoroughly in cold water to remove internal grit. Dry on paper towels.

With cut sides up, liberally season with salt and pepper. Heat 3 T oil in heavy saute pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Place leeks cut side down in pan without crowding them. Cook in batches, if necessary. Sear 4 to 5 minutes, until lightly golden, and then turn over to cook 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer, cut side up, to a gratin dish that will fit leeks.

Pour 2 T oil into pan and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until just beginning to color. Add wine and reduce by half. Add stock, and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Pour over leeks, without quite covering them.

Braise in oven 30 minutes, until tender.

GRILLED LEEKS I

4-6 leeks
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare, clean and slice leeks as above.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count to 3 seconds before the pain demands you retract (see On Grilling).

Place leeks cut side down diagonally on grill for several minutes until lightly browned. Turn leeks over again on the diagonal and grill for a few minutes more until brown. Remove and lightly salt and pepper (as they are preferred au naturel here, I omit this seasoning step.)

GRILLED LEEKS II

2 C white wine
2 C stock
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 T butter
4-6 leeks

1 C olive oil
1/4 C red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

Prepare and clean leeks as above, but do not slice.

In a heavy saucepan, saute garlic and shallots in butter for a minute or so—do not burn. Bring white wine and stock to a simmer, and then add leeks and braise for 10 minutes; remove and let cool, then slice lengthwise. Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar and garlic in a large bowl, and the leeks and let marinate 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count to 3 seconds before the pain demands you retract (see On Grilling).

Place leeks cut side down diagonally on grill for several minutes until lightly browned. Turn leeks over again on the diagonal and grill for a couple minutes more until brown.