Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sweet quinoa and easy eggplant parm

I have been interested lately in quinoa. I kept seeing this ancient Americas grain in various recipes and cookbooks, so I got to thinking... perhaps I should try it. Eating quinoa, particularly for a vegetarian, has its upsides.
1. Quinoa has the most protein of all the grains.
2. It is the only grain that is considered a complete protein.
3. It's relatively easy to cook.
4. It tastes pretty good too.
So the next time I was in that area, I stopped in at the world market. I had been on the hunt, unsuccessfully, for quinoa at my local grocer, but alas, it has not the popularity of say, rice or barley or even couscous. Usually I find the world market a bit overpriced for just about everything, but quinoa priced at about what a bag of long-grian brown rice would.

In the bag, it looks a lot like couscous, small and pellet-shaped, but with an imperfection to its circularity, as though it had been somehow dented and worn by the elements. Once cooked, however, it looks quite different from couscous and oddly, a bit like maltomeal, except that off each single piece of grain, a small tail protrudes like a tiny white worm. They call this "sprouted" quinoa, if I recall correctly.

With this quinoa, plus a little help from my freshly grown eggplant, I would make a fabulous dinner. The entree: eggplant parm, the lazy version, adjusted from a recipe created by Mario Batali. The side dish: quinoa with almonds, hazelnuts, and apricots, brought to you by the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook.

The eggplant takes longer to cook than the quinoa, so it gets put in first.

Eggplant Parm (easy version)
What you need:
3 very small, couldn't-wait-any-longer-to-pick-one-from-the garden eggplants
1 half jar of pasta sauce
a few cups of shredded cheese
grated parmesan cheese
Italian-style bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450. Cut the top and bottom off the eggplants and then slice them length-wise into about three or four equal slices. 
2. In a small, rectangular casserole dish, arrange the first four slices to fill the bottom of the pan. Layer with half of sauce, then shredded and parmesan cheese to cover. Then add the second layer of eggplant slices. Top with remaining sauce. Then, cheeses to cover, and finally, coat the top in bread crumbs.
3. Cover and bake about 45 minutes.

Thirty minutes into the eggplant baking time, start the quinoa. It takes 15 minutes to cook, with a 1 c. quinoa to 2 c. water ratio.

Quinoa with Almonds, hazelnuts, and apricots
(or if you have no hazelnuts: Quinoa with almonds, more almonds, and apricots)
What you need:
1 c. cooked quinoa
2 T honey
1 T lemon juice
1 t butter
1/3 c. milk
pinch salt
2 T finely chopped almonds (or 1 T almonds and 1 T hazelnuts)
1/4 c. dried apricots, diced

1. Stir honey, lemon juice, butter, milk, and salt into quinoa and cook another minute.
2. Serve in individual bowls garnished with chopped nuts and apricots or, like I did, just stir the nuts and fruit into the pan with all of the quinoa and scoop it onto your plate as needed.

By itself, the quinoa tasted fairly nutty but also very very sweet. I affectionately deemed it "candied grain." Add a slice of almond and some apricot to the bite and it was an explosion of deliciousness that felt more like dessert than a healthy way of getting grain, protein, and fruit simultaneously into my diet. Not that I'm complaining. I do so love my dessert.

Then, add in the tomato-sauce-coated, soft-and-succulent eggplant to the mix. The 45 minutes of mixing flavors with the sauce and the cheese only benefits the eggplant, which has a fall-apart on your fork tenderness that had me unable to wait until it cooled down to a proper temperature before digging in. I think it helped that it was young eggplant rather than the larger, heartier aged eggplant.

A four-star meal, overall. And the tomato paired well with the honey-nut fruity grain beside it. A little bit sweet, a little bit acidic, this meal left me licking my plate clean and then searching for leftovers.

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