Monday, August 29, 2011


After a brief hiatus from blogging, I have returned with a healthy vengeance! For those who don't already know, I am 18 weeks pregnant. What this means for the blog is that I have to give up wine (sob!) and start watching what I eat more closely. No more sushi, no more lunch meats, no more soft/unpasteurized cheeses...but that doesn't mean that I can't have fun with food anymore! One of these fun, healthy foods I have been enjoying of late is quinoa.

If you are unfamiliar with quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa), it's a grain that is said to originate in the Andean region of South America. What makes this food so super is that it's known as a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids, making this a great food for the vegetarian/vegan diet. It is also gluten-free, great for celiacs too! All this on top of being fun to say, of course :P Quinoa can be cooked up like rice, couscous, etc, or eaten raw, but I find it best to rinse it first to remove it's bitter coating.

My vegetarian mother introduced me to quinoa a couple of years ago while I was visiting her back in my hometown. She likes to cook hers up and grill it in a wrap on a panini press with various vegetables she has in the house-she also includes hummus and sometimes cheese. One time she threw avocado in a wrap she made for me, WOW! I was sold on quinoa in that moment!

We've had quinoa in the house for the past week and since I'm a "qui-newbie" with using it, I referred to some of my cookbooks, as well as the internet, to see what I could do with it. I made 3 side dishes for 3 meals throughout the week to use it all up. A great time-saving tip I found on is to cook up a large amount of quinoa at a time, way more than you need, and use it as you need it throughout the week.

The first dish I attempted was called Basil Quinoa with Red Bell Pepper. Cooked quinoa is tossed with red bell pepper in a pureed basil-parmesan-garlic-lemon homemade dressing. I served it as a side along roasted pork tenderloin in a curry paste rub. The recipe is found in the Sonoma Diet Cookbook. Although the recipe is definitely healthy, I found it to be lacking in taste, despite the fact that I used fresh basil, garlic, etc. I will make it again, but will double the dressing recipe for added flavor.

The next dish I tried was also from the Sonoma Diet Cookbook, Grilled Beef with Quinoa and Vegetables. In this dish, cooked quinoa is combined with green beans, roasted bell peppers, and a dressing that includes red wine vinegar, olives, and olive oil. I had to make a few changes because I didn't have olives, and I prefer to eat my bell peppers raw instead of roasted. I served it alongside a top sirloin steak with a fennel seed rub. I will definitely make this again!

Finally, I found a great salad recipe on that pairs fresh cherries and quinoa with other power foods such as spinach and walnuts. Click here to see the recipe! Of course, I made a few changes. Instead of goat's cheese I used cranberry/pepper flavoured Boursin cheese, I didn't toast my walnuts, and I thawed frozen cherries and used the leftover juice to make a cherry vinaigrette. In my opinion, this was the best of all 3 recipes I tried. The bitterness of the spinach and walnuts was muted but was still complemented by the sweetness of the cherries and the cheese. Wonderfully balanced dish. It got great reviews at the BBQ I originally served it at, and I liked it so much I made it again tonight (cheese-free) as an accompaniment to chicken breasts stuffed with the leftover Boursin.

Quinoa doesn't have to be limited to just sides and salads - there are tons of other great recipes for cooking with quinoa, including the ones on the website I mentioned above. There's a recipe on the site for flourless chocolate cake, and I definitely plan to try it sometime! All you have to do is look, cook and definitely open your mind. At first, I had no intention of trying quinoa. And thanks to my mom, I'm glad I did!