I first encountered quinoa many years ago in the salad bar at a Fresh Choice. It was in some sort of salad thing, with yellow squash and some other veggies and a dressing. Everything about this salad was horrible. The dressing was bitter and slimy, like bile. The veggies were woody and undercooked. And the quinoa was an abomination. It was everything that should not be in your mouth. It was simultaneously slimy and crunchy, bloated little sacks with germ tails. Just thinking about it gives me the feeling that I have a mouth full of something I desperately need to spit out.
So really, it’s not a surprise that I avoided quinoa until quite recently. Not that it is hard to avoid quinoa, even in San Francisco. In fact, the first time it really came up was a few months ago at my friends’s house. Now the dinner also included a delicious fresh salad, roasted beets, and sauteed beet greens. I have a pretty puny appetite sometimes, so I figured worse case scenario I’d eat the side dishes, push the dreaded quinoa around on the plate, and call it a night. But to be polite, I tried a bit of the quinoa. And to my great surprise, I actually liked it
One, it helped that it wasn’t coated in bile-sauce. But more than that, the texture was nothing like the horror I remembered. This quinoa was more like brown rice, with a really nice “bite” to it. It went great with the beet greens especially. I decided that if it ever showed up on a menu, I wouldn’t instinctively cringe away. But even after having my mind blown that quinoa was actually edible, I still didn’t bring the party home. I figured it was too much of a hassle to cook, and my kitchen is a depressing hole right now. Spaghetti seems like an undertaking in there. Anything more complicated than couscous does not happen.
Fast-forward three months or so, and I am dealing with some nutritional complications. My digestive system is a lazy bastard that can’t be bothered to absorb much, so I am looking into super foods—like quinoa! The cooking instructions, once I bothered to actually read them, weren’t hard at all. It’s basically rice, with a 1-2 ration of grain to water. You can even cook it in the rice cooker (if you have one. I don’t. Yet).
So last Sunday I decided to take the plunge and cook up some quinoa. I’d made some excellent greens the day before, but had sadly eaten them all with my friend Liz. So while I was at the farmer’s market stocking up on nectarines and bread, I grabbed a bunch of rainbow chard and threw in some basil for good measure. Back at home, I put 1/2 cup of quinoa on to cook and started the greens. I sauteed a red onion in grape seed oil (I prefer it to the olive variety) until it was translucent and threw in the chopped chard and closed the lid. After about 10 minutes, I added the basil and 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and let them steam another 5 minutes or so, about the same time the quinoa was ready. I seasoned the chard with black pepper and a handful of shredded Percorino-Romano, then I dumped it on a bowl of quinoa and dug in. Delicious.
(I did end up adding a little salt to the bowl after, but in general I prefer to under-salt the main dish and adjust each serving as needed.)