Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quinoa Tabbouleh

I was never a fan of tabbouleh until about a dozen years ago when I discovered a grain-like plant food called quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). Up until that time, I had only had this dish made with bulgur wheat which, to me, is unpleasantly coarse textured and hard to digest. As my friend Star says, remembering meals she ate back in her Outward Bound days, "Bulgur is vulgar." I agree.


Quinoa is very nutritious. It is high in protein (12 - 18%) and, unlike most plant foods, the protein is complete, meaning that it contains a full set of essential amino acids. This makes quinoa a good meat substitute. Proteins found in meat, fish and dairy products are complete, but to get complete protein in vegetarian diets, it is usually necessary to combine two or more plant foods to get the full range of amino acids. The classic combination of beans and rice serves this purpose.

Quinoa is also a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium and phosphorus. It is gluten-free and easy to digest.

Best of all, quinoa tastes good. It has a light, nutty flavor. I know that some people complain that it is bitter, but that doesn't have to be the case. Before cooking, simply measure out the amount of quinoa you are going to use, put it into a sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold, running water. This will remove the bitter coating that clings to the grains. Even though most of the quinoa you buy has been rinsed, I've found that it will still taste bitter unless I rinse it again. So don't skip this important step.

Quinoa used to be difficult to find in stores, but is becoming more available. I buy it in bulk at my local PCC store in Seattle. Most natural food stores carry it, as does Amazon.

Quinoa tabbouleh is one of my favorite dishes in summer. This time of year the herbs in my garden are at their best and I have lots of fresh cherry tomatoes. The combination of flavors is refreshing and even though it is a light dish, it contains enough protein to be very satisfying.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
4 cups vegetable broth or bouillon
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2-3 Tbs. chopped mint
2-3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
Juice of two to three ripe lemons
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
15-20 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt, if needed

Pre-heat a large stainless steel or non-stick saute or frying pan on medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and let the heat from the pan dry it out, stirring often to keep from sticking.

When the quinoa is dry and starting to get toasty, add the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so the mixture simmers, uncovered. It will take about 20-25 minutes for the quinoa to cook and absorb the liquid. When it is done, you will see that the grains have expanded, forming tiny corkscrew shapes.

While the quinoa is cooking, slice the onions and tomatoes, and chop the herbs. Toast the nuts, using whatever method you prefer. I put them into a shallow pan and "bake" them in my oven set at about 325°. I stir occasionally, and let them toast slowly - I've burned far too many batches trying to use the broiler. Some people like to toast nuts in a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat, shaking often to keep them from sticking and/or burning.

When the quinoa is done, transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except for the tomatoes and nuts. (They get soggy during storage.) Refrigerate. When you are ready to eat, top each serving with nuts and tomatoes. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for a day or two at least - if they last that long. They never do at my house.