Thursday, June 3, 2010
Mark's bogged down in work this week, so he's asked me to share a few of my recent recipes. Here's one I made Saturday for a cookout. We love Greek and Middle Eastern food, it's so fresh and flavorful and great for summer. And there are interesting vegetarian options.
Tabbouli is a cold grain salad, traditionally made with bulgur, which is cracked wheat berries (the whole grain kernel that is ground down to make wheat flour). Then you add some seasonings, lemon juice and diced raw tomatoes and cucumbers. However, I am not a fan of raw tomatoes, so I decided to use sun-dried instead. Also, I discovered that I was out of bulgur, so I knew I'd have to be creative.
But I did have quinoa, and since I've finally developed a taste for it, decided to use it for this dish. Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain; it's very high in protein, and a complete protein at that (has all 20 amino acids, if you follow that, including all 8 needed for muscle repair which is helpful if you're exercising a lot). Because it's such a super-food, I've been trying to like it. Other recipes I've tried have been a bit on the bland side, but a few weeks ago I made "Quinoa with Sun-Dried Tomatoes" from the Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook by Tosca Reno and it was really good. So this recipe was sort of a combination of that one, and a traditional tabbouli. This looks really long and complicated, but only because I babbled quite a bit. It was actually very easy.
1 Tbsp olive oil
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic
1 c. dried quinoa
2 c. really good chicken or vegetable stock
Lemon juice, or lime juice, or both
Fresh herbs: I used mint, oregano and chives because that's what we have in our garden right now
Salt and pepper to taste
First: quinoa has a soapy coating that can make it taste bitter, so rinse it well in a mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter for a few minutes, until the water runs clear and the bubbles go away. Quinoa is also an amazing mess to clean up if you spill it all over the floor, or if a toddler finds the bag in the pantry and decides to try to build a sand castle. Just trust me on this. So be careful how you store it. We buy some grains at Wegmans, but prefer to stock up at our local co-op because they carry grains (and many other foods) in bulk there and of course we also like to support our local businesses. If you buy grains in bulk, store them in the freezer for a couple of days at first to make sure any pantry moths or whatever are gone.
Next: Heat oil in a pan on medium. Slice or chop your tomatoes, add to pan, mince or press garlic cloves and add to the tomatoes. Just stir around for 2-3 minutes until it's fragrant. Then add the quinoa and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Grains benefit from toasting in the pan before adding your liquid; either dry-toast or stir-fry in a little oil. It brings out their flavor so they taste kind of nutty and rich. We do this with most of them: steel-cut oats, bulgur, brown rice.
The directions on a bag of grains usually call for water. Always, always use a good stock or broth instead. Even whole-wheat pasta can benefit from a few splashes of broth in the water when you boil it; it improves both flavor and texture. The only time I don't do this is when making a breakfast cereal, when I use half water and half milk.
Back to the quinoa: stir in 2 c. stock, bring to a boil, and let it simmer on low for 15-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa seeds have exploded into these neat little UFO-looking spirals. The tomatoes will have cooked and softened by now, too.
Spoon into a shallow bowl, fluff a little, and allow to chill, at least to room temperature, because you won't want to cook the veggies or herbs you'll add. Stir in about 1 Tbsp lemon juice and a splash (capful) of lime juice. Fresh is better but sadly, we don't always have fresh limes and lemons around. If you use fresh ones, add a little of the zest. It's concentrated citrus flavor.
Peel, core, and dice 1 whole cucumber and stir in. Same for the avocado-add this just before you serve. If you're making the dish ahead of time, save this step for last so the avocado doesn't brown, though the citrus juice will help. Avocado isn't a traditional ingredient in tabbouli but it goes really well in this salad. And it's a great source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids so they can help regulate your cholesterol levels, flatten your belly and keep you satisfied longer after meals. Avocados are another super-food. And they're yummy. So don't avoid them just because they have fat.
Chop about 1 Tbsp each of fresh mint, oregano, and chives and add to the quinoa. You can use green onions instead of the chives, or add some flat-leaf parsley. Mint, oregano, and lemon are very Greek flavors and they go really well together in this (or any) dish. Dried herbs aren't going to be the same, but you can use them if you add them earlier-- I'd add them to the broth before you cook the quinoa. Fresh herbs are best added last. Sprinkle a little freshly ground black pepper.
Blend it all together and taste. Add salt if needed, or another splash of lemon juice. I recently read an interview in Clean Eating magazine with a chef who said most recipes benefit from a little acid to finish them off-- vinegar, lemon juice, etc. Since we started doing that, we've noticed a difference in the flavors of our recipes.
Let chill an hour or 2 so the flavors blend; stir again and serve cold. This is a great side dish, or if you add a can of chick peas it's a fine, light, summer meal.