Look What I Made: Quinoa Two Ways

Quinoa chicken salad (photos by Travis Awalt)

I don’t know much about quinoa. I know that, inexplicably, it’s pronounced KEEN-wah. I have also heard whisperings that it comes from South America and it’s the reigning Healthiest Grain in the World. (Suck it, oats.) But that’s it. Whether or not quinoa existed prior to 2011 is really a gray area for me. In the meantime, however, it has carved out quite the culinary celebrity.*

I’m always skeptical of these buzzed-about fad foods, but it turns out quinoa is pretty, pretty good. It’s delicious, really. It has a strong flavor for a grain (seed, technically), nutty and earthy, with a texture akin to hominy grits getting it on with couscous. All good things.

My first stab at using quinoa was a cold chicken salad with some pomegranate – a couple of so-called super foods mixing it up, no big whoop. It was bright, fresh, and delicious. For whatever reason, it got me thinking it would be interesting to desecrate a holiday favorite – stuffing/dressing – by building it around quinoa. So I did, and it rules. It does not taste like you’re eating anything nutritious, which is usually a good thing, right?

Anyway, I couldn’t decide which recipe to go with, so here’s both. Enjoy.

Quinoa holiday dressing

Entry-Level Quinoa

1 part quinoa, rinsed
2 parts liquid – water or stock
salt to taste

1. Toast quinoa a few seconds in a sauce pan over high heat. Add liquid and salt and bring to a boil.

2. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let it sit, still covered, for another 5 minutes. The quinoa should have absorbed all of the liquid – if not, a couple of minutes uncovered over medium heat should finish the job. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Quinoa Chicken Salad

Cook 1 cup quinoa (instructions above; use water), let it cool, then stir in the following: 1 cup cubed cooked chicken breast, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds and about 1 tsp. each of grated ginger and orange zest.

Quinoa Holiday Dressing

Cook 3 oz. (that’s how much was in the package…) diced pancetta over medium heat until the fat is starting to render. Add 3 tbsp. of butter (now we’re talkin’) to the mix. Add one diced celery stalk, one diced medium carrot and half a diced yellow onion. Sweat over medium low heat until the onions are translucent and drunk with butter and the carrots are about cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add 3/4 cup frozen corn and 1 1/4 cup quinoa and cook as above (using chicken stock). Finish by stirring in 2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary and 1/2 tsp. dried thyme.

*Speaking of celebrities, Quinoa is a celebrity baby name waiting to happen.