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8 great recipes for quinoa

8 great recipes for quinoa
Fig Restaurant was happy to share its recipe for this warm, colorful salad. Recipe: Warm quinoa salad (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Fan of quinoa? Perhaps not very familiar with it but curious? If you're looking for a great wheat-free alternative this Gluten-Free Wednesday, quinoa is a great choice.

A South American grain-like crop, quinoa has come to be recognized as a nutrient-dense superfood. The seeds, or "grains" — quinoa isn't a true cereal, though its seeds resemble and are used like grains — of the plant can be found at most supermarkets, and it can be cooked like rice, added to soups and stews, and even popped.

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If you've never cooked with it before, here are a couple of tips: Rinse the grains under running water; they're coated with saponins (defensive compounds) that can give a finished dish a bitter taste if the seeds aren't rinsed before using. For extra depth of flavor, toast the quinoa before cooking it. 

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To cook, put the grains in boiling water (1 part seeds to 2 parts water) and cook until the quinoa is translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Add the drained quinoa to salads, or flavor and serve as a side dish.

Quinoa lentil salad with tomatoes: Nutty quinoa, French lentils, fresh mint and parsley, a little garlic and some bright tomatoes make a perfect salad, whether you're looking for a light main course or flexible side dish. (And if you don't tell, your guests probably won't even suspect that it's vegetarian.)

Quinoa salad with shiitakes, fennel and cashews: Looking for a robust dish that is still vegetarian? Try this combination of quinoa, meaty shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and crunchy toasted cashews. These flavors come together in perfect harmony in this salad.

Scarlet quinoa salad: The quinoa salad from M Cafe is bright, refreshing and filling if you're looking for something on the lighter side, and it's vegan. Quinoa is cooked with finely diced beets, which tint the quinoa a vibrant shade of red. Cool the quinoa, then add cucumber, lemon zest and herbs and toss the salad with a vinaigrette. The recipe does require a little forethought when it comes to ingredients and a shopping list (you'll need to buy umeboshi vinegar — available at Asian markets and select well-stocked stores). And you might as well shop for extra of everything — yeah, this salad is good enough you'll probably want a double batch.

Quinoa and kale salad: Kale and quinoa are paired in this salad, accented with toasted garbanzo beans, celery, currants, piquillo peppers and lemon zest, and tossed with a bright red-wine vinaigrette.

Quinoa salad with grilled corn, tomatoes and cilantro: Combine quinoa with corn, tomatoes, chile, green onions and a touch of salt. Toss in a light dressing of lime juice, oil, garlic and cumin for a refreshing dish.

Kale chopped salad: A great salad for kale lovers, chopped kale and romaine are tossed with quinoa, almonds, raisins and parmesan cheese. Just before serving, toss with a bright lemon vinaigrette.

Quinoa and kale salad: Dark green julienned strips of kale are tossed with nutty quinoa and sunflower seeds, colorful bell pepper and red grapes, then dressed with a bright Champagne vinaigrette. Parmigiano and manchego cheese lend a subtle richness, while the preserved lemon strips add a salty tang.

Warm quinoa salad: From Fig Restaurant, this colorful red quinoa salad combines apples, chard, haricots vert, butternut squash and crunchy almonds tossed with a sweet, tangy orange blossom vinaigrette. You can find the recipe below.

WARM QUINOA SALAD

Total time: About 1 hour | Serves 4

Note: Adapted from Fig Restaurant. Red quinoa is available at well-stocked markets.

ORANGE BLOSSOM VINAIGRETTE

1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup orange blossom honey
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer. Reduce the orange juice by one-third to yield two-thirds cup, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and place the reduced orange juice in a medium bowl. Set aside until cool.

2. To the reduced orange juice, whisk in the honey and then the vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed. This makes about 2 cups dressing, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the dressing should keep for about 5 days, refrigerated.

WARM QUINOA SALAD

1/4 pound peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
Canola oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound haricots vert, ends trimmed (about 1 cup)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored and cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
1/4 pound Swiss chard, ribs removed and coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
Orange blossom vinaigrette
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup red quinoa
1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig
2 tablespoons Marcona almonds
Toasted sliced almonds

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the squash cubes with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then set the warm squash in a medium bowl.

2. While the squash is roasting, blanch the beans. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots vert and blanch quickly to bring out the color, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain the vegetables, then quickly shock in a bowl of ice water. Remove from the ice bath and set aside.

3. In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat. Add the beans, cubed apple and Swiss chard together with one-fourth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Saute, tossing frequently, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, adding one-fourth cup vinaigrette toward the end to deglaze the pan. Add beans, apple and chard to the squash in the bowl.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the vegetable broth to a simmer over high heat. Stir in quinoa and rosemary sprig and gently simmer, covered, just until the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and drain, discarding the rosemary.

5. Toss the warm quinoa and Marcona almonds in the bowl with the squash. Dress with additional vinaigrette as desired and season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Mound the warm salad on 4 plates, drizzling over additional vinaigrette if desired. Garnish with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 468 calories; 10 grams protein; 54 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 25 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 14 grams sugar; 461 mg. sodium.

Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter

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