Roasting or toasting quinoa continues to be my favorite way to eat this grain that is not really a grain, but a seed. Confused? Probably because it assumes the grain persona. You cook it by boiling it and then you use it as you would any grain. But, I have never been able to get past it’s appearance as it sits on various salad bars at places like Whole Foods or other “healthy venues.” But I have always wanted to like quinoa because it’s a perfect food that is filling.
This is an ancient food that could be THE food of the moment, because it’s perfect protein, has a low glycemic index, and is gluten free.
The only problem I see with quinoa is that it can get a bit boring and bland. I know you could say the same thing about rice, but quinoa cooks up almost like a porridge, and that is not a texture as easily adaptable to some recipes as other grains….
…unless, you take a different approach, and roast it to get a crispy texture.
I first got this idea back in January when I fell in love with using cast iron, and made an amazing wintery dish with butternut squash. Quinoa continued to intrigue me as a quite perfect meal, and this dish was submitted for the Blogger Aid Changing the Face of Famine Cookbook, which was published. My photo was chosen as one of the few to be published and I think probably the ingredient (quinoa) helped with that decision.
I took a strong mediterranean approach and incorporated this into my series on purple foods using purple onions. Purple (red) onions are high in flavenoids and are much more than just “flavor” contributors.
While you’re cooking the quinoa on top of the stove, you can grill the vegetables. I chose red bell pepper, red onion, grilled fennel and breaded eggplant. If you want to be completely gluten free, the eggplant can also be grilled. The capers add enough bite and tang as there is no dressing necessary for this salad. I topped it with the last of our basil, and some chopped herbs from the fresh fennel, but you could certainly take your herbs in another direction with thyme, rosemary or parsley.
One other variation of this uses more quinoa, and fluffs it up a bit, making a layered look.
Alternate Assembly: Layer Quinoa between grilled vegetables
- 3 cups uncooked quinoa
- 6 cups salted water
- ¾ cups grated parmigiano reggiano
- 2 tablespoons capers
- extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1 fennel bulb, sliced crosswise
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded, sliced crosswise (optionally use red and green)
- I small eggplant, sliced, sweated,
- 1 egg beaten (for eggplant) (skip if grilling eggplant)
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs (skip if grilling eggplant)
- 1 red onion, sliced cross wise
- A few torn basil leaves or several thyme sprigs removed from stem or parsley
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- Rinse several times really well. This is an important step to rid quinoa of soapy saponin which, if not rinsed well, will emit a bitter taste.
- The ratio for cooking is 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa.
- Once rinsed, add to salted water, bring to boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Once cooked, add ½ C parmigiano reggiano, a drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
- Allow to cool enough so you can handle.
- Use a cast iron pan, pizza stone, or parchment paper and baking sheet.
- Press quinoa with palm of your hands, keeping it together in one form, about ¾ inch high.
- Roast quinoa in hot oven of 425 degrees.
- Turn after 10-15 minutes once you see edges browning. Don't worry about keeping it all
- together. Just use as large a spatula as you have and turn it over to
- continue until the top is toasted.
- Brush with olive oil and grill either on grill pan, or outside gas grill until done.
- Sweat eggplant first by salting both sides then placing on paper towels for 30 minutes.
- Rinse off excess salt. Dry.
- Eggplant is dipped into egg and then panko and fried in pan until crispy on both sides.
- Optionally, grill eggplant.
- Arrange vegetables stacks, using either one layer of quinoa or alternating quinoa with some of the vegetables, adding in capers. Add in herbs of choice
- Optional Garnish: Add a drizzle of olive oil if necessary, and some grated cheese.
- Serve immediately or at room temperature.
- This is best eaten at room temperature, or warm.