Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ancient Grains

I've been eating a lot of quinoa lately. For a long time it was one of those things that I heard a lot about, but had never really tried. I figured it was like rice or couscous, and, well, I already had rice and couscous, why would I need something else? But there's something satisfying about quinoa that you don't quite get with rice or couscous. Maybe it's the slight crunch it offers, or the subtle nutty flavour it adds to a dish. Or maybe it's the protein.

One of the reasons I've been eating so much quinoa, aside from appeasing my curiosity and finding that I really like it, is that's very high in protein. This is always good news when you're a vegetarian, and even better when you find out that it's a complete protein. For those who don't know, a complete protein contains all the essential amino acids in the desired amounts for growth and health, etc., and so forth. If you know your protein sources, you'll know that most complete proteins come from animal sources, whether that be meat, eggs, milk, or what have you. Very few vegetables, grains, or legumes contain the correct proportions of amino acids to qualify. But quinoa is one of them. (So is soy, for anyone interested). On top of that it's high in iron, calcium, and fibre. 

And did I mention that it's low fat and gluten free?

Now that I've bored you with the science, let me bore you with a bit of history. Quinoa was one of the staple foods of the Inca of South America. It's especially suited for growth in that climate, with much of the quinoa we eat today coming from Peru. The Inca held quinoa as sacred and called it the "mother of all grains" or chisaya mama. It's still a staple food in a number of South American countries including Bolivia and Ecuador.

Like all my best-loved foods, quinoa is very versatile. It can be used as a side dish, in salads, and even in baked goods. It's also really easy to cook. I'm going to send you over to the Kitchn for cooking instructions, because not only is it the best set of instructions for cooking quinoa that I've come across, they also have a lot of information about quinoa and accompanying recipes.

The first recipe that got me hooked was this salad, containing the asparagus I promised you in my last post. 

Asparagus, Tomato, and Quinoa Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
goat cheese


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

Cook the quinoa according the directions from the site linked above. I would recommend rinsing the quinoa first. It really does make a difference. As someone notorious for skipping steps, I would not recommend skipping that one.

Remove tough ends of the asparagus, blanch in boiling water for about 1 minute, and tranfer to an ice water bath to stop cooking. While that cools, whisk together dressing ingredients. 

Toss together cooled quinoa, asparagus (roughly chopped), tomatoes, and basil. Stir in dressing until evenly coated. 

And that's it. It keeps well in fridge. As you can see from the picture, I added chickpeas to mine to give it a little more substance as a meal. I also left out the basil, though that was more due to forgetfulness than anything else. I've made it a couple times without the dressing, and it's delicious either way. If you use soup stock to cook your quinoa it adds enough extra flavour to merit skipping the dressing. I also substituted diced red pepper for the cherry tomatoes, because try as I might, I really don't like tomatoes. 

This next dish was something I threw together one night for dinner. I had red pepper left over from the salad, as well as chickpeas, and a zucchini in the vegetable drawer. I sliced and halved the zucchini, chopped the red pepper, and sauteed them with some olive oil and rosemary.

Start the red pepper first, as it will take longer to cook, and add the chickpeas and quinoa to the skillet at the end to warm everything through.

And dinner is served. It would make an excellent side to meat or fish as well, if you want to add some animal protein to your meal. 

Of course you could use any vegetables you like, or black beans instead of chickpeas.

It's one of my new favourite things to eat, especially when I'm in a pinch for something quick. I like to make a pot of quinoa and keep it in the fridge so I can add whatever I want when I feel like it. 

Apparently the UN has declared 2013 the year of quinoa, whatever that means. So, you know, jump on the band wagon. It's pretty great over here. Delicious and nutritious.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Vegetables

The last couple days have been absolutely gorgeous. It's my ideal weather really. Some may find it a little on the cool side, but I think it's perfect. Not so hot that it's unbearable, but it's warm. With a cool breeze if the sun starts to beat down a little too strongly. 

The best part about the warmer weather though is the fresh produce. Winter produce always tastes a little...boring. You can tell it came from far away. It doesn't have the fullness of flavour that comes from something that's in season. Most notable right now as far as seasonable vegetables are concerned is the asparagus. You can find it just about everywhere and I'd recommend getting it while it's in season. It really does taste so much better that way. 

And it's so easy to prepare: grill it on the barbecue, broil it with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice, or blanch it and throw it over pasta, quinoa, lettuce. The possibilities are endless.

Now, I feel like all this talk of asparagus might be midleading. I'm not actually going to give you a recipe for asparagus (although I do have one that I'll share at a later date). This one actually involves red bell pepper and zucchini (one of my other favourite summer vegetables), though I mention asparagus because it would work just as well and I think you should try it.

I was rather tired one night and didn't want to put that much effort into my dinner. Honestly, that's me most nights and simple is always the best bet. I had a zucchini, half a red bell pepper, some goat's cheese, and black beans. I diced and sauteed what I needed of the vegetables, tossed the black beans in at the end to warm them up, and then threw the whole thing over spaghetti. I crumbled the goat's cheese on top and just like that I had dinner.

It was delicious. Fresh and filling and just what I needed that night. I've made several slightly different iterations of this recipe over the last two weeks, sometimes without the beans, sometimes with chickpeas; once over gnocchi instead of spaghetti and once with tomato sauce thrown into the mix. The point is: it's very versatile. Mushrooms would make a nice addition. You could throw in chicken or tofu if you want something a bit meatier than beans for protein.

About beans though. I've been throwing them over everything from pasta to salad to quinoa. I was never one to eat a lot of meat to begin with. I find cooking it a pain and frankly it's expensive. However, since going the more or less vegetarian route, since applying that label to my diet, I've been more conscious of getting my protein. And beans are a great way to do that. You can add them to almost everything and they are delicious. I would eat most of them right out of the can.

Anyway, I feel like this post might be a little disjointed. I apologize for that, my brain feels a little all over the place right now. The point of all this is that it's summer, and the weather is nice, and the produce is delicious right now. It's really easy to throw together a good meal when you have such fresh vegetables available to you. Dinner doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be fancy, but it should taste good while it does it's job of nourishing you. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Taste of India: Street Style

Well I did abandon this for a while didn't I? Sorry about that. I don't really have any reason for it. Just neglect and laziness. I've even been eating some pretty delicious things lately, I just haven't actually sat down to tell you about it. So let's start with something short and simple. With something I didn't actually cook.

I went to grab a bite to eat with my sister and her friend yesterday. We popped into this little Indian place on Yonge Street, just south of Bloor, called TKRE, which stand for The Kathi Roll Express. It hasn't been open for very long and it's one of those places that, from the outside, you could miss completely. 

You hit the order counter the moment you walk in, where everything is prepared for order in front of you. They even make the whole grain wraps - Indian-style flat bread called parathas - in store. Past the counter is a sizeable sit-down area colourfully decorated with logo-painted table-tops, graffiti laden backsplashes, and old Bollywood film posters. 

The gentleman at the counter, who I believe is also the owner, gave us a rundown of the menu and explained the concept behind the store. He was very enthusiastic about the food and more than willing to answer any questions we had. It's a rare thing to get such attentive service at what is essentially a take-out joint. You can tell that he cares and wants you to enjoy the food. He has based the menu on street food you'd find in various parts of India, namely Kolkata and Mumbai. The rolls are filled with anything from chicken to lamb to chickpeas, and then doused in a house-made hot sauce that has just enough kick to be called spicy, but not so much that I couldn't eat the whole thing. They come in two sizes, mumbo or jumbo, depending on the size of your appetite.

I purchased the Achari Paneer roll (paneer is an Indian pressed curd cheese), one of several vegetarian options, along with a mango lassi. My two dining companions ordered chicken and lamb respectively, onions held on the chicken roll. We then took a seat and waited while they cooked our food.

The mango lassi was one of the best drinks I've tasted in a while. Thick and smooth and pure mango, no filler flavours. It was more or less like drinking a mango and it was delicious. The roll was equally tasty. As I said above, it has a good kick of spice to it, and the paneer was perfectly cooked for optimum texture. I got the mumbo size, which was perfect for how hungry I was, though if you're looking for something more dinner-sized, you'd probably want to go for the jumbo. 

Overall it was a great experience and I'll definitely be going back. As someone who's been a vegetarian now for about nine months, I can attest that it's difficult to find vegetarian fast food (though, to be fair, Indian cuisine usually has vegetarian options). TKRE has numerous veggie dishes, including a couple that are vegan, which is really refreshing. I'm especially interested to try the chickpea roll and their chai tea (whose origins are Indian). I'm also keen to get another of those mango lassis. 

So if you're in the Yonge-Bloor area and looking for a quick bite to eat, something that's a little different, check out TKRE. You won't be disappointed.