We tend to prefer quinoa in salad form. Even when I make a quinoa pilaf, we like it even better the next day served cold as a salad.
In my ongoing quest for a more exciting quinoa pilaf, I pulled off the shelf a book by the late Felipe Rojas-Lombardi: The Art of South American Cooking. Since quinoa is native to South America, it isn’t altogether surprising that Chef Rojas-Lombardi’s tome has a few interesting quinoa dishes.
His Quinoa a la Jardinera is a particularly nice pilaf style preparation. Warm quinoa is tossed with a colorful confetti of sauteed diced vegetables, including red and green bell peppers, red onion or scallion, carrots, and celery. Other vegetables, such as corn and peas, can be also added. You can tell from the original instructions that the recipe comes from a high-end restaurant chef rather than a home cook–the vegetables aren’t just to be chopped or minced, they are to be cut in a 1/8″ dice.
(Chef Rojas-Lombardi had an interesting background. Originally from Peru, he worked as James Beard’s assistant, was a founding chef of the gourmet food store Dean & Deluca, and then went on to become executive chef at the Ballroom. His restaurant featured tapas, and he is credited with starting the tapas trend in U.S. restaurants.)
The pilaf’s flavor is enlivened with an interesting mix of ginger and herbs. The herbs are particularly important because quinoa on its own has a pretty subtle flavor. When I first served this to my husband, he liked it, but thought it lacked the “big flavor” of quinoa salads I have made in the past. I add more dill (better), and served it the next day cold as a salad with some grape tomatoes tossed in. On the side, I served some guacamole and tortilla chips. Now, that combination–the fresh acidity of the tomatoes, the pungent garlic creaminess of the guacamole, the crunch of the tortilla chips, the subtly chewy-crunchy texture of the quinoa with the backnotes of herbs and ginger–now that had really big, big flavor.
Quinoa a la Jardinera
Adapted from Felipe Rojas-Lombardi’s The Art of South American Cooking.
2 cups quinoa boiled in water until tender and drained (I used just 1 cup of quinoa and cooked in 2 cups of water in a covered pot until the water was absorbed, about 15 minutes)
3-4 Tbl. olive oil
1″ ginger, minced
1 red onion, 1/8″ dice, 6 scallions, thinly sliced (I used a small Vidalia onion plus three scallions)
stalk celery,1/8″ dice
1 red bell pepper, 1/8″ dice
1 green pepper, 1/8″ dice
(I didn’t have the pepper and I used a cup of frozen mixed vegetables, with corn, peas, carrots, lima beans and string beans)
1 Tbl. coarse salt (I salted to taste)
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 Tbl. fresh thyme or dill or parsley, chopped (I initially used 3 cubes of the Eden frozen dill, but ended up adding 3 more cubes later)
Prepare the quinoa. While it is cooking, saute the ginger and the carrots for a minute. Add the onion and cook another minute (I actually cooked the onions for a few minutes, until they were tender, translucent and not quite starting to brown). Add the celery, then the peppers and season with salt and pepper. Saute just enough to heat through the peppers (at this point, I added in the frozen vegetables and heated them through). Combine the quinoa with the vegetables and the dill (or thyme or parsley).
Felipe Rojas-Lombardi suggests varying the vegetables listed above, specifically recommending adding corn, peas and black beans (or some other bean). Nuts are another possible addition. The herbs can be varied, as well, but some kind of herb is a must. Other possible herbs: mint, cilantro, oregano, basil or even tarragon. The flavor will be a bit boring without the fresh herbs, so don’t overlook the importance of this ingredient.
My husband I liked this even better the next day as a salad with cherry tomatoes added and some garlicky guacamole and tortilla chips on the side.