Sometimes, inspiration arrives in the form of an overloaded kitchen table, laden with vegetables about to go bad.
I returned home from school meetings yesterday, drained and a little bit sad that the long days of writing and wandering through the kitchen have come to a halt. The night before, I was too tired (and too busy writing that long post) to make anything new. Granted, I had the leftovers of the red beans and rice still waiting for me, so I didnt suffer in the eating. But it was the first day in which I didnt cook something new in quite a long time. I missed it.
So when I returned home tonight, I set everything else aside and decided to cook. But what to cook? I have a hundred recipes I want to try, a pile of cookbooks from the library stacked on my living room floor, and there is always the inspiration from my fellow food bloggers. However, tonight, I looked at the mound of leftover vegetables from the Farmers Market I hadnt used yet, and I knew I had to do what I havent done in awhile: make something up.
First of all, a bag of quinoa from the bulk section I had picked up at PCC last week. Ive been wanting to put up a quinoa recipe here for awhile, but for some reason I havent cooked any lately. Thinking of this blog, I grabbed the bag and decided to use it as the base for something, just so I could tell all of you about it.
Quinoa is another in the line of unusual grains Ive come to love after I found I needed to go gluten-free. Unusual only means relatively unknown in the US, because quinoa, like amaranth, has been grown for thousands of years across the world. The staple grain of the Incas in Bolivia and Peru, quinoa is so densely packed with nutrition and protein that it allowed those people to survive life at those high atltitudes. For the people of the Andes, quinoa was considered one of the trinity of most important foods, along with corn and potatoes. There are stories of the Incan emperor planting the first quinoa seeds of the season with a golden spade, in front of a gathered crowd. In that culture, for a time, quinoa seeds were more valuable than gold. And, just as with amaranth, the growing of this gorgeous grain was abolished by the Conquistadores in the seventeenth century. Some sources claim that this was because the Spaniards insisted that barley be grown instead, so they could have their familiar beer. (Ack! for those of us with celiac.) And thus, over time, quinoa became illicitly grown, or only grown in remote places where people didnt have access to the bounties of the cities. This is why, in most of the world, quinoa is now seen as the grain of the poor.
Some part of me really loves eating the grain of the poor, the grain of the dispossed, the mistreated, the ones who arent given enough dignity by their society.
And Im not the only one. Quinoa was first brought into the US in 1982, by the Quinoa Corporation, who bought a 50-pound bag from South America and tried growing it. Again, as with amaranth, this was part of the natural-foods movement to bring into greater growing existence a series of grains from around the world. Now, quinoa is being grown throughout the United States, including my own western Washington state, since it needs cool summer nights for ideal growing. Commercially, its available in its raw form, as well as quinoa flour and pasta.
I first learned about quinoa a few years ago from a personal trainer with whom I briefly worked at a gym. Enlightened about nutrition and eager for everyone to learn, Joe advised me to try quinoa for breakfast, instead of other cereals. Its packed with protein and no fat, and Joe thought I would do better with that than standard wheat. He was right, it turns out, and so Ive returned to making what he suggested long ago.
I want to quote The Splendid Grain here again, not only because Rebecca Wood is such an expert on quinoa that she wrote an entire book about it, but also because I want all of you to buy her books:
A careful look at a single grain of quinoa quickly reveals its nutritional superiority to other grains. The germ, equivalent to the yolk of an egg, is the most power-packed part of any seed. In most grains it is little more than a speck, but quinoas germ completely surrounds the rest of the seed. This helps explain why quinoa contains up to 20 percent high-quality protein. Hard spring wheat, the next highest common grain in protein, contains only 14 percent by comparison. The United Nations World Health Organization observes that quinoa is closer to the ideal protein balance than any other grain, being at least equal to milk in protein quality. This dynamic grain is high in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and vitamin E.
The Splendid Grain, p. 79
Doesnt that make you want to try some? If not, then know that the taste of quinoa is light to the taste and soft in the mouth. I had some quinoa tabouleh last week that restored my faith, since I thought I would never be able to eat tabouleh again (its normally made with bulgur wheat). Quinoa soaks up the taste of whatever its paired with, while it still maintains its own texture and grainy qualities. Ill never grow tired of it. And I think youll like it too.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, it’s pronounced KEEN-WA. I’m always amused by people’s faltering attempts to pronounce the name of this lovely grain.
So I boiled one cup of quinoa in two cups of the chicken stock I made early this week, the recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. If you havent made your own chicken stock, you should. Its fairly easy and doesnt require you to be at the stove all day. And the taste? Tremendous. Densely layered. A distillation of the hours of simmering into one, perfect sip. No canned or boxed stock will ever taste the same. Everything I make from scratch, even the simplest foods, tastes infinitely better than what is available in a package. Always.
Next, I had fava beans. This is one of those vegetables Ive never known how to cook. I know theyre often used in Italian and South American cuisine, and weve all heard that reference in Silence of the Lambs. But for some reason, I just used to believe they were beyond my ken. Funny meit turns out theyre so easy to cook. So, after looking up some ideas online (my favorite communal cookbook), I shucked the beans from the soft, pliable shells. The insides are downy, like finely spun dryer lint. And the beans are broad and spongy, like edamame on steroids. And all it took was five minutes of boiling. And again, I used the chicken stock, for a really rich taste. After four minutes of boiling, I threw in the handful of green beans I had left over and cooked it all for a minute.
(Just so you know, there is a rare, little-known disease called Favism, in which a few people are horribly allergic to raw fava beans. It really is a small amount of people, but you never know who you are serving. Take a look at this if you want to know more.)
In the sautee pan, I mixed up some olive oil, a chopped orange tomato, kernels of corn I had shaved off the last cob on the table, and the last bit of garlic-herb tofu I had in the refrigerator. When it had browned, I threw in a little chicken stock and let it simmer.
And then I put it all together. Slap-dash, no recipe, spontaneous and trusting my instinct. And boy, was it worth it. I slurped up this dish faster than I want to say. Thank goodness I saved just a touch overnight so I could take a picture of it.
When I recounted the spontaneous dish to my friend Meri, who has spent some signifigant time in South America, she said, “Oh, that sounds really authentic. Fava beans are essential.” So who knew? I’ll definitely make it again, and I’d love to hear about it if you make it too. But more than that, trust your instincts. Take a look at your kitchen table. What new favorite dish is lurking there, disguised as vegetables about to go bad?
SHAUNAS SPONTANEOUS QUINOA DISH
2 cups of homemade chicken stock 1 cup of quinoa 3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of fava beans, removed from their husks 1/2 cup of green beans 1 cup of homemade chicken stock
1 orange tomato (any flavorful tomato will do) 1 cup of freshly shaved corn kernels 1/2 cup of garlic-herb tofu splash of good olive oil sea salt and pepper to taste
Boil two cups of homemade chicken stock. Store-bought will do, if you must, but remember that nothing matches the flavor of homemade. I used the recipe from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook (post to follow soon), but you can use any recipe you like. Make it on a weekend and use it all week long. Also, a highly flavored vegetable stock would do well here too.
When the chicken stock is boiling, throw in one cup of quinoa, already rinsed. When it has come to a full boil, reduce the heat to a healthy simmer and let the mixture steam for twelve to fifteen minutes. When nearly all the liquid has evaporated (but not so long as to let the quinoa grow dry), take the pan off heat. Save for a few moments.
Shuck the fava beans by ripping the top, grabbing the thread, and pulling down. Each bean pod yields about eight beans. Throw them in the boiling chicken stock. Boil for four minutes.
Cut off the ends of the green beans and cut in half. When the fava beans have boiled for four minutes, throw in the green beans too. Cook for only one minute. (You dont want the green beans to grow soggy.) Take off the burner and strain the beans from the liquid, reserving the stock for later.
While the beans are boiling, heat a saucepan to high. Throw in the olive oil, then add the chopped tomato, the kernels of corn, and the tofu. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. Stir until they are starting to brown. Throw in some chicken stock (enough to make a skim of stock on the surface of the food) and continue cooking until that stock has simmered down.
Throw all of it together in your favorite bowl. Add just enough of the hot chicken stock with which you cooked the beans to make this a little soupy. Gobble it up.