Give quinoa a chance

Quinoa is not only for vegans anymore. Try this fantastic grain as a substitute for rice or as kosher-for-Passover stuffing.

Quinoa stuffed veges and pears (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo)
Quinoa stuffed veges and pears
(photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo)
Recently, at a photoshoot with some leading chefs for the February cover of Menta magazine, the subject of quinoa came up, and all of them expressed such contempt for the little grain that I was almost embarrassed for it. Still trendy in celebrity chefs’ menus in America, quinoa began appearing on Israeli chefs’ menus several years ago as a token tribute to the burgeoning health-food trend. But now it would seem, they are all quinoa’d out.
Truth be told, I was a little quinoa’d out myself lately – something I think had to do with winter cuisine. In winter, I crave soft, comforting foods and grains, like soups, stews, rice and barley, rather than the chewiness of the quinoa grain. But that said, having just made a quinoa tabouli salad that received rave reviews at a party, and with Passover around the corner, I have decided to give it another chance.
Quinoa, an ancient food known as “the mother grain of the Incas,” made aliya over a decade ago after Herzl Bibi, the legendary founder and proprietor of the Nitzat Haduvdevan health-food chain, encountered quinoa on vacation in Bolivia, and hearing of its amazing merits, decided to import it to Israel.
Little did he know that one day Israelis would consume more quinoa per year than all of Europe combined.
Richer in protein and the amino acid lysine than any other grain, quinoa is also very high in iron, and it is an important source of calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Available in beige, black or reddish brown (the darkest shade is the richest in minerals), or sometimes a mix, quinoa is not really a grain, but a seed, recognized by American rabbinic authorities as kosher for Passover since 1999 – suggesting only that those who do not eat legumes (“kitniot”) on Passover make sure to use previously unopened boxes of quinoa, which have not been processed on machines that also process corn or rice.
So whether or not you’ve ever tried quinoa – and even if you’re also quinoa’d out – why not give this little seedgrain another chance. Quick-cooking quinoa is a superb base for salads, a binder for vegetable or chicken patties, a filling for stuffed vegetables, and a bed for savory toppings of all kinds.
Makes 8-12 (make half the recipe if desired)
The original recipe calls for a combination of beef and rice. Here’s my vegetarian take on it using quinoa. Use any leftover filling as a salad or side dish.
✔ 2 medium potatoes ✔ 1 medium eggplant ✔ 2 large tomatoes ✔ 1 large onion ✔ 2 medium zucchini ✔ 3 medium bell peppers (use yellow, red, orange) ✔ 2 medium almost-ripe pears
Filling: ✔ 11⁄2 cups quinoa (preferably mixed colors) ✔ 21⁄2 cups water ✔ 1 cup each: finely chopped packed fresh coriander or basil and parsley✔ 1 large red onion, finely chopped ✔ 1 tsp. cinnamon✔ 1 tsp. Baharat (mixed spice) or allspice ✔ 2⁄3 cup finely chopped figs ✔ 2⁄3 cup finely chopped dried apricots ✔ 1⁄2 cup currants ✔ 2⁄3 cup cup pan-toasted shelled walnuts or pistachios ✔ Salt and pepper to taste
✔ 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil ✔ 1 large onion, finely chopped ✔ 1 bay leaf ✔ 2 large cans whole tomatoes, pulverized ✔ 1 Tbsp. honey ✔ 2 cups water ✔ 1⁄2 cup dry red wine ✔ 1 tsp. dried basil ✔ 1 tsp. dried oregano ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme ✔ 1⁄2 Tbsp. paprika ✔ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To prepare the vegetables for stuffing, wash the potatoes and use a sharp knife to hollow out a large indentation, leaving a rim. (Alternatively, potatoes may be halved like boats.) Cut the top off the eggplant and hollow out the inside (or cut in half). Cut off a thin slice from the top of the tomatoes and onion and scoop out the flesh (may be added to the cooking sauce), leaving a firm rim to hold the stuffing. Slice about a centimeter off the top of the onion, and hollow out a bowl-shaped space.
Cut a slice off the bottom so the onion will stand upright.
Cut off the top and tail of the zucchini and cut into 3 pieces each. Hollow out each piece leaving a rim. Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and turn over on a rack to drain for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pat dry. Set all the vegetables aside, cut side down.
Cut the top off the pears and use an apple-corer to scoop out the insides, leaving enough at the base so the filling will not escape (or cut in half, core and hollow-out only the base).
Quinoa: Pour quinoa into a pot with the water and bring to a boil.
Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes (or follow directions on package). Remove from heat and let stand, covered, till just barely warm. Fluff with a fork.
Add the fresh herbs, onion, seasonings, dried fruit and pistachios to the quinoa and mix well with a fork.
Stuff the vegetables and pears with the mixture and replace the lids.
Pour olive oil into a medium pot and sauté the onion 3-5 minutes until golden, stirring often. Add garlic and sauté a few seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients.
Bring to a boil and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
Remove cover and cook 10-15 minutes till just thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pour one-third of the sauce in the bottom of a large wide oven-proof pan and place the peppers standing up inside snugly (other vegetables like carrots may be used around the sides of the pot to keep the vegetables in place). Pour the remaining sauce around, cover and bake in a pre-heated 180º oven for 45 minutes.
If the sauce is too thick, thin with a little boiling water.