Conquering Quinoa

The first time I came across quinoa was in 2010 while working as a live-in nanny. My then boss had a container of the stuff tucked away in her pantry with the rice and pasta, and there it stayed for the two years I lived and worked in the house. I regularly prepared dinner for the family and was never asked to cook with it, so I figured it wasn’t worth my time. Quinoa was like açaí berry – too difficult to pronounce, and therefore too difficult to prep and eat.

While out to lunch one day a few years back, I ordered a colorful vegetable quinoa salad because I was tempted by how delectable it looked. Never, ever judge a book by its cover. It was one of the most terrible things I have ever tasted. It felt like eating tiny pearls of stiff cardboard. Needless to say, I didn’t finish the quinoa and pledged to never eat the stuff again (I was later informed by a quinoa lover that it wasn’t prepared properly). I kept true to my promise for over three years, but all that changed last night.

After hearing my aunt – whom I trust when it comes to all things food – regularly rave about quinoa and its health benefits, I knew I had to attempt cooking this trendy, hard-to-pronounce, ancient, grain-like seed (it’s not actually a grain, but a plant). The nutritional incentives of quinoa are reason enough to incorporate the food into one’s diet. Not only is it low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but quinoa is also a good source of calcium and is gluten-free. Since I already had the one unfortunate experience tasting quinoa, I opted to personalize a recipe that included some of my favorite ingredients: garlic, onions, and cheese.

The final result was a success! The cheesy quinoa was so tasty and tender, and there was nothing cardboard about the dish. I was so impressed with the outcome that I immediately called my mom to brag. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful and delicious relationship.

Cheesy Garlic Quinoa

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Ingredients (Adapted from: http://canopi.com/beauty-the-beard/2013/4/9/parmesan-garlic-quinoa-youll-never-eat-mac-cheese-/?_szp=275456)

-4 garlic cloves, chopped

-1 large white onion, chopped

– 1.5 cups of low sodium chicken broth

– 1/2 cup of water

-1 cup uncooked quinoa

-2 TBSP fresh basil, chopped

-1/3-1/2 cup of mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan cheese blend

-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First, the quinoa needs to be washed. Place a large bowl in the sink and pour in the quinoa. Fill the bowl with water until the water is one inch above the quinoa. Stir the quinoa/water mix around for a few seconds with your hand and then let the mixture settle. At this point you should see a few grains/ other stuff float to the top of the bowl. Next, place the bowl under the faucet and turn the water on. The idea is to overflow the bowl as you gently mix the submerged quinoa around with your hand, allowing the bad quinoa (which rises) and other leftover parts to float out of the bowl. The good quinoa will settle. Do this for about a minute or two or until the water starts to turn clear. Drain, and the quinoa is ready to use.

In a pot, brown the two cloves of garlic in a TBSP of olive oil and a dash of salt on medium to high heat. Add 1.5 cups of the low sodium chicken broth and 1/2 cup of water to the pot. Stir in one cup of quinoa, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.

Once the contents of the pot are boiling, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. There may be liquid still in the pot, but quinoa is ready when the seeds develop a light ring on the outside. You will know it when you see it, so make sure you periodically check the pot – overcooked quinoa hardens and becomes difficult to chew.

While the quinoa is cooking, sautée the other two cloves of garlic in two TBSP of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a pan. Add the chopped white onion and two tablespoons of fresh basil and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Once cooked, turn the heat to low to keep warm.

Once the quinoa is cooked, scoop it into the pan with the onions. Turn the heat to medium and add the cheese. Let the contents cook for about two minutes – or enough time that the cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

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