Packed with protein and hundreds of years of wisdom, quinoa may be not only one of the most practical ingredients a chef can use, but also one of the most devious, for it has been fooling us all for hundreds of years. This tiny ingredient, usually assumed to be a grain, isn’t really that at all—it’s a seed.
Though it leads a life of deceit and disguise, this unassuming ingredient can make a bold impact on a dish when prepared well. And it’s a feel good ingredient, too, packed with 12-18% protein and containing a balanced set of essential amino acids. Today, some of the most progressive chefs are keen on quinoa, and share suggestions for incorporating this once-sacred ancient plant in your own dishes:
Baruch Rabasa, executive chef of Mesón 923: “For a very long time I did not enjoy quinoa—neither eating it or using it. It wasn’t until a recent trip with my father to Bolivia—the capital of quinoa, where it is revered as a “super food”—when it just kind of hit me! Quinoa itself does not have a great deal of flavor, so you have to impart the flavor to make it truly ‘super.’ Currently on my menu I serve Atlantic Reef Trigger Fish with Butter Poached Jumbo Lump Crab with Quinoa and Tomato Vinaigrette. In preparation, brunoise the quinoa, then add chicken stock for flavor and a drizzle of pistou [French style pesto] and chili oil. It’s a wise choice!”
Greg Rhoad, executive chef at The Aurora Inn and E.B. Morgan House: “One dish I love to serve is Grilled Lamb Chops with a Warm Salad of Toasted Quinoa, Salt Cured Lemon, Fresh Oregano, Grilled Artichokes with String Beans and Garlic Jus. Keep the lamb very clean and simple, with just a garlic lamb jus, so that the flavors of the quinoa are surprisingly bold. Also, a good combination is quinoa mixed with bulgur wheat to bring out the nutty sweetness of the seed. Or try quinoa with baby romaine and a variety of citrus flavors, such as pomegranates and oranges. Quinoa really comes alive when paired with citrus dressings as it blends well with the acidity. As a sweet vegetarian appetizer at gatherings, serve stuffed dates with quinoa, almond, and a honey mascarpone filling. And pastry chef Trina Myers adds quinoa to her multigrain bread and homemade moist breakfast bars of granola, carrots, and dried fruit.”
Craig Shelton, executive chef and managing partner of The Inn at Dos Brisas: “It is something I have used extensively for the past 20 years and plan to use it well into the future. It’s not a part of big agriculture, so it has not been genetically modified. It is also nearly a perfect food as it is a complete protein. I use quinoa with dishes—various salads, crudos, ceviches, and in many vegetarian dishes. We will recreate my notable Veggie Burger, here at Dos Brisas, where quinoa is the staple of the recipe. If it is prepared well it can be a truly perfect ingredient.”
Tucker Yoder, executive chef of The Clifton Inn: “Some try to avoid quinoa because of the mystery surrounding its origins and use. Personally, I love it as it is super versatile and incredibly healthy. A recent dish we served was quinoa in a Cauliflower Soup with Apple, Leeks, and Curry. It also works really well in vegetarian cooking and dishes with seafood. A nice way to achieve a nutty flavored coating for a protein is by toasting and grinding the seeds. Already, that’s quinoa four ways without even having to think about it.”
Try these great quinoa recipes: