A word about quinoa: this grain-like seed has come into vogue recently, thanks in part to the gluten-free fad diets* and also because it has a high nutritional value. It is an excellent source of non-meat protein (18% of it's nutrition) and supplies all 9 of the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) humans require. (Read more about it at Wikipedia or Whole Foods.)
Quinoa (pronounced keen'wah) can be found in three colors: white, red, and black, although I have only been able to find the black when in a tricolor mix. The white has the mildest flavor and is easily substituted in many recipes calling for rice, bulgur wheat, couscous, etc. The flavor is best described as lightly nutty, with the red being stronger. In my experience, the red also takes a little longer to cook and is easier to use when you want a little more crunch in the dish.
Most directions will tell you to cook the quinoa in a 1:2 ratio with water, but every time I have done that, the quinoa is overcooked. Quinoa is done cooking when the seed becomes transparent and you can see the little plant germ (it looks like a comma). Overcooked quinoa has the germ completely sprung free of the seed, and oftentimes it has separated completely. The quinoa will be slightly mushy when you bite in to it. Through trial and error, I find the best results when I use 1 cup quinoa to 1-2/3 or 1-3/4 cup water. I usually cook my quinoa in the rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stove top. Simply add the water and the quinoa to a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook covered until the water is completely absorbed.
I've now made this recipe enough times that I don't even follow the directions any more. Another great thing about this recipe is that it's very forgiving. You don't have to be exact on measurements and you can easily substitute ingredients depending on what you have on hand or what strikes your fancy. Don't cheat on the tomatoes though. In fact, I have yet to ever make too many tomatoes, we always wish there were more!
Roasted Tomato Quinoa Salad
based on this recipe from Martha Stewart
1 cup quinoa
1-3/4 cup water
6-8 Roma tomatoes or 5-6 tomatoes on the vine
1 large bundle each parsley, mint, basil
1/2 medium yellow or sweet white onion
3 cloves garlic (or more)
vinegar (balsamic or raspberry red wine)
salt & pepper to taste
Main dish variation: carrots, celery, use the whole onion
Side dish variation: lemon or lime juice
Suggested variations: for Italian flavors, use balsamic and substitute oregano for the mint. Cilantro and marjoram also work well.
- Get the quinoa cooking. It will take 30-40 minutes. Turn the oven on to 450 deg F.
- Slice the tomatoes into approximately 6 wedges and then cut the wedges in half. Set aside in a bowl.
- Finely cut up the herbs, put 1/3-1/2 in with the tomatoes and place the remaining herbs aside.
- Mince up 2 cloves garlic and add to the tomatoes. Mince remaining clove and set aside.
- Drizzle the tomatoes/garlic/herbs with olive oil and vinegar, sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper and toss to coat thoroughly.
- Spread the tomatoes in a single layer on a lined, rimmed baking sheet and put into the oven for 20-30 minutes. You can cook a minimum 15 minutes, but longer is better as it gives more time for the tomatoes natural sweet flavor to intensify. Stir once halfway through roasting.
Trust me on the lined part. You can use parchment, aluminum foil, or a silicone mat. Clean up will be sooo much easier.
- While the tomatoes & quinoa cook, dice half an onion and add to the reserved herbs and garlic.
- In a large bowl (you can use the one you mixed the tomatoes in earlier), combine the cooked quinoa, roasted tomatoes, reserved fresh herbs/clove/onion. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper to taste.
Main Meal variation
- While the tomatoes are roasting in the oven, dice an entire onion, 3 medium-large carrots, 4 stalks celery. Roughly chop up several cloves of garlic. (Tip: chop up the celery leaves and add to the fresh herbs to add at the end.)
- Sautee in just enough olive oil to prevent burning on medium heat until vegetables are cooked through.
- Toss all ingredients while still warm and serve.
- Let all ingredients cool, toss together with the juice of one lemon (or lime). Serve cold.
*This is not to imply that everyone who eats gluten-free is doing it as a fad. A suffers from celiac disease.