We had a quinoa accident many years ago, and it damaged me for a long time to come. It was the early nineties and my mother, who has a sure hand in the kitchen, was trying to show some kindness to me at the tail end of what she calls my “Hell Years” by cooking me a non-meat-centred dish. (I was capriciously vegetarian.)

Leaning against the counter in front of the sunny backyard-facing window in the house I grew up in, she said, with her cheerful armor on: “Look what I found, Francetoast. A recipe for keen-wah. Doesn’t that sound interesting?”

I supposed it did. And nothing had ever failed before in my mother’s kitchen that I could remember. Still, it was the Hell Years. I felt generous in my kindness when I answered, “Sure. Kind of.”

But oh, the quinoa. It was bitter as earwax, and so very fishy. The recipe called for tuna, and the tuna imbued every speck of the bitter, bitter quinoa with its aluminum fishiness. It was awful, and I’m sure I didn’t spend too much time worrying about phrasing that diplomatically to my poor mother. For it was the tail end of the Hell Years, and I was a spectacular bitch.

To make it up to that beloved woman, I am going to cook her lunch asap, featuring the really, really good recipe that follows. It came to me via the lovely Katarina, who found it in Weekday Wonders by Rose Reisman, and has delivered me squarely into the arms of quinoa – finally.

It’s full of veg (and even a little fruit), it’s refreshing and slightly sweet, and it took me all of 15 minutes to make. You should have it for supper tonight or as a make-ahead lunch for tomorrow. (I served it with leftover chicken from Eduarda’s, and sautéed shrimp for Wayne the pescatarian.)

But before you move on to the recipe, a quick note on quinoa. It truly does have a bitter, waxy coating that prevents the birds from devouring it. So before you cook with it, soak it in a bowl of water for five minutes.

Then swish it around, rubbing the quinoa to release the coating, then rinse it well.

But don’t let this prevent you from trying this dish. The soaking is simple and it works: The dish wasn’t bitter in the slightest and had great mouth feel, somewhere between couscous and barley.

Last (and sound the trumpet blast for this one): Quinoa is not a grain! Not a grain. I couldn’t believe it either. It’s a seed. It contains calcium and iron, and (I’m sure you’ve heard this before) is the only plant food that contains all the amino acids, making it a complete protein and therefore a total boon for non-meat-eaters like the illustrious Wayne.

Here you go:

Quinoa with fennel, red pepper, and apricots in an orange dressing

For the salad:
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained (I used white, because it’s what I had on hand. Apparently the red variety is slightly chewier)
1 cup diced fennel (there were out of it, so I substituted celery. I resent the way fennel sometimes overbears in a mixed dish like this, anyway.)
1 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced snow peas
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries or raisins (I used cranberries – yawn – but if you’ve read my other posts, you know I did this out of gargantuan love for my main squeeze, the raisin hater. Raisins would have been excellent here.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the dressing:
2 tbsp raspberry vinegar (I used white-wine vinegar)
2 tbsp orange juice concentrate, thawed (I used PC mango-orange juice)
1 tbsp liquid honey (I only had creamy clover honey, so I used maple syrup)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic

To make salad: Soak the quinoa in a bowl of water for five minutes.

Rub hands over the quinoa to loosen the bitter coating. Then rinse under fresh water.

In a saucepan, bring stock to a boil. Add quinoa; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a bowl. Cool.

While quinoa is cooking, chop the remaining salad ingredients.

Then stir into cooled quinoa.

To make dressing: In a small bowl [I always use a mason jar so that you can screw the lid on and shake it up], whisk together dressing ingredients.

Pour over quinoa mixture; toss to coat.

Wayne and I ate almost all of it, we loved it that much. Next time, I’ll double it.
If you have a fantastic quinoa recipe of your own, lay it on me. I’m ready for more. Looking back, I probably didn’t deserve quinoa all those years ago. I’m glad it was patient.
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