Friday, May 27, 2011

The Magic of Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is an amazing little superfood that I'm trying to incorporate more into my diet. I always want to think it's a type of pasta, because it reminds me of risotto, but it is actually a gluten-free seed with a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

Quinoa is perfect for non-meat eaters because it is a complete protein in itself, meaning it provides all eight essential amino acids without needing to combine it with another source of protein, such as legumes, nuts or another type of grain. And it is very versatile. You can eat it as a side dish, a main dish, sprinkled on cereal or in salads, soups, chili, burritos, etc. Quinoa is also a great source of iron, dietary fiber and B vitamins.

I've had a package of organic Nature's Earthly Choice Premium 100% Whole Grain Quinoa hanging out in my kitchen cabinet for a few weeks now. Yesterday afternoon, while I was walking home in the brisk, late-spring air and watching the sunlight spark off Lake Superior, I had the inspiration to make quinoa salad for dinner. We have a ton of spinach and lettuce at my house right now, as well as other fixings for great salads, so my original idea was just to cook and season some quinoa to put on top of a bed of greens.

When I got out the package of quinoa, I saw a simple recipe for Quinoa Pilaf on the back, so I decided to make that instead of just cooking the quinoa plain. I had everything the recipe called for except walnuts and fresh parsley, so I used the recipe as a base and improvised off that.

First, I heated up a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan at medium high heat. Then I cooked half a cup of chopped onion in the oil for about five minutes. The Pilaf recipe I was using didn't call for any seasonings, but I added some of my favorite spices to the onion and oil mixture: turmeric, curry powder, a little coriander, cayenne pepper, and ginger. Then I added carrots and a little more olive oil and cooked for about another four minutes. (The recipe called for two medium carrots, chopped, but I just used baby carrots since that's all we had.) After I added the carrots, which by nature are pretty sweet, the mixture smelled like it was missing a little bit of the bite it had originally, so I threw in a pinch of white pepper.

Next came a cup of the uncooked quinoa and two cups of vegetable broth. Then I brought it to a boil, covered it, and simmered for about fifteen minutes. The end result was a wonderfully flavorful, home-y concoction that made the kitchen smell like Thanksgiving. It actually tasted kind of chicken-y. I think it was the combination of the vegetable broth, carrots and ginger that did it.

I made a bed of green leaf lettuce, spinach, sprouts and a little bit of kale and spooned the quinoa pilaf over it, then sprinkled sunflower seeds on top. It was hugely satisfying, incredibly tasty, and one of those meals that just make you feel good while you're eating it. One helping not only filled me up, but also provided me with good, clean energy for the rest of the evening.

As I said, I plan to increase my quinoa consumption considerably, so there will be more quinoa recipes to come. I'm quite happy with the way this particular dish turned out. In fact, I think I am going to make another salad with the leftovers for my lunch right now!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Hello, friends. I know it's been a while since I posted, and I also haven't delivered the Easter dinner blog I promised. I still will, I'm just having trouble getting the pictures of the meal to post. So, in the meantime, I want to write just a quick post to catch up.

The semester is over, but I'm still vegan, and still loving it. I have an energy and zest for life that I haven’t felt in years. In addition to a vegan diet, I've been doing yoga, riding my bike and/or walking long distance every day, and my body is responding so well to all the activity and fresh air and good food. I'm getting stronger, I’m feeling good, and it shows.  

I’ve found that after being vegan for a few months, my body is in tune with itself once more, and therefore much more sensitive to certain substances, especially any kind of stimulant. They just kinda make me feel like I’m going to die. Hence, I am having trouble enjoying one of my former favorite beverages: coffee. I can't drink it anymore. It makes me far too anxious and sick. Interestingly enough, my friend Kara, who is also vegan, is experiencing this same problem with coffee lately, even though she's been vegan for years and has been fine with coffee until now. So we've been drinking decaf chai to fill the void, and though we miss coffee, chai suffices. Especially first thing in the morning when you just want a hot beverage to start your day. 

Kara and her vegetarian husband Orion are both fantastic cooks, and they provide me with wonderful homemade meals on a regular basis. Kara is a whiz at concocting delicious, hearty soups out of whatever she has on hand. Last Friday she made an exquisite lentil, rice and vegetable stew flavored with dill that she fed me when I was sick, and it just might have been what cured me. (That or the ginger/licorice root/turmeric tea she made me.) Kara also makes amazing vegan pumpkin cookies, which she adapted from her grandmother’s recipe, so between those and Newman-O's, I haven’t been suffering on the baked good front either.

Eating with Kara and Orion inspires me in my own cooking as well. Last week was the first time I made a vegan meal based on something from my own head, rather than from a recipe. I wanted something Thai-inspired, so I boiled some brown rice noodles, then I made a sauce based on the one the vegan pot pie I make calls for, with cornstarch, soy sauce and coconut milk. I added water chestnuts, bean sprouts, lots of spices and other veggies we had in the fridge: corn, a little bit of broccoli, and some snap peas. Then I sprinkled crushed peanuts on the top. It really hit the spot!

One thing that is nice about being vegan is the fact that the people around you end up eating that way sometimes too, and realizing it's not so bad. Last week was my friend Karleen’s birthday and we had a couple vegans (myself and Kara) in the crowd at my mom’s house. So, for Karleen’s birthday cake, my sister made the same chocolate cake we made for our Easter meal, only this one was a double layer and she improvised a frosting out of coconut milk and powdered sugar. It was DELICIOUS and just as good as any non –vegan cake I’ve ever had. And it met with the approval of all the non-vegans—my brother Daniel, Orion, my mother and my sister—in the crowd. Success!

I have a tendency to ramble, since I have so much to say, but I promised I’d keep this short, and so I shall. I will make it a priority to post more regularly, however, because this blog is still important to me and I miss writing it. Until then, adios!