Friday, June 17, 2011

Quinoa with Currents, Dill and Zucchini

I have have been noticing quinoa more and more frequently as of late. First quinoa 'sliders' were appearing in a restaurant here and there as a veggie version of the appetizer-sized burgers. Then our grocer started stocking it in their bulk section in addition to offering packaged parcels from Bob's Red Mill. And now an onslaught of summer salad recipes has bombarded me while on the prowl for new dishes.

I'll take this all as a sign that it is time explore this ancient grain.

adapted from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, by Maria Speck

serves 6

The Ingredients:
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 cups water
1/4 cup dried currants
1 lemon
2 sm-med zucchini, grated on box grater
4 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
4 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

feta cheese, crumbled - as much or as little as you like (omitted for a vegan version)

The Process:
To make the quinoa, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add most of the green onions, a pinch of the salt, and cook until the onions soften, just a couple minutes. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains dry out and toast a bit, roughly another 3 minutes. Add the water, the currants, the remaining salt; bring to a boil. Dial back the heat and simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is just cooked through- 15 minutes or so. Be mindful here, you don't want to overcook the quinoa, and have it go to mush.

While the quinoa is cooking zest the lemon, and squeeze 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into a small bowl.

When the quinoa is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the zucchini, lemon juice and zest, most of the sesame seeds, and most of the dill. Taste and adjust for salt.

Serve, turned out onto a platter, topped with crumbled feta, and the remaining green onions, sesame seeds, and dill.

The Review:
The zested lemon and chopped dill tickled my senses as I awaited the quinoa to finish cooking. This pairing has frequently accompanied fish dishes in the past. This recipe marks the first time dill and lemon would be mixed with grains.

And I felt a little let down. The lemon provided all tart and sour without the refreshing citrus notes. I did not find the flavors to meld well with the nutty quinoa. The sweetness of the currants was sporadic from one bite to the next, not allowing it to compliment the tartness of the lemon. The zucchini quickly wilted from the steam, which was a blessing...those first initial forkfuls unfortunately yielded a chalky flavor from the raw squash. The feta added some much needed salt.
The textures however were amazing...the creaminess of the quinoa, paired with the crunch of the sesame seeds. And the dished looked like a beautiful experiment in pointillism.

On the blog where I originally located the recipe, the writer suggested forming patties out of any leftovers...adding an egg and bread crumb to help bind the mixture. I did try this, adding a touch of salt as well. The quinoa patties, once formed and fried had a much more balanced flavor...but crumbled very easily.

I won't give up on quinoa. I just do not believe this was a recipe for me.

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