Making dough

The editors at Epicurious must be reading my mind, because I’ve been thinking about bread-baking a lot lately and they just e-mailed me their newsletter with a link to a wonderful online guide to bread basics. How did they know?

Ever since I was a kid and enjoyed the homemade bread baked by my best friend’s mom, I’ve wanted to be one of those people who turned out yeast bread like it was nothing. But, like many, I find the prospect intimidating, from fermenting the living yeast to kneading the dough to proofing. It’s a time-consuming process, not suited to those (like me) who crave instant gratification. I’ve tried baking bread occasionally, but it requires practice if you want to enjoy tasty, consistent results.

But these current economic times have encouraged me to revisit my ambition. You see, bread is a staple of our household. Even during the height of the Atkins anti-carb craze, we never abandoned bread. It’s good for the soul. But we crave artisanal loaves with crunchy crusts and tender interiors, and we’ll go through a pricey ciabatta from the gourmet store in a day or two. That adds up.

So, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and try again. I’ve had some success lately with pizza dough, which makes me more confident about working with yeast. After trolling around the Internet for recipes, I turned to cookbooks and settled on Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. Marcella never leads me astray.

Still, as usual I couldn’t resist futzing with the recipe. It calls for a total of 6 1/2 hours of rising time, which works if you start by noon, revisit it at intervals throughout the day, and then bake it for dinner. I was starting at 6:30 p.m. And I had a plan, sort of. Here’s the recipe, with many deviations from Marcella’s sage instructions. Experienced bread bakers, please chime in with any advice you have.

breadcloseupMantovana (Olive Oil) Bread

Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Even with a few hiccups, it turned out OK, but practice will make it perfect.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1 cup warm water, divided

2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached bread flour (’cause it says it’s “better for bread” right on the label)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cornmeal

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Place 1 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. With the motor running, gradually pour the yeast mixture and 1/4 cup warm water through the food chute. Process until dough forms in a lump around the blades. Remove dough from processor, and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Place the dough in a large bowl dusted with flour; cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 3 hours or until it has doubled in bulk.

2. Place 1 cup flour in the bowl of the food processor, add the dough and salt. With the motor running, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water and oil. Process until the dough forms a lump around the blade, add more of the remaining 1/2 cup flour if needed. Remove the dough from processor, and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Return the dough to the flour-dusted bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for another 3 hours or until it has doubled in bulk. [At this point, it was getting late, so I popped the bowl in the refrigerator and went to bed.]

3. Put a baking stone (a k a pizza stone) in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 F.

4. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. [At this point, it was 6:30 a.m., I woke up, scampered downstairs and removed the dough from the fridge. It was very cold so I let it warm to room temperature. Sort of.] Slap the dough down very hard several times or until it stretches out lengthwise. Starting with the farthest edge, fold the dough 3 or 4 inches toward you, then push it away with the heel of your hand. Continue to fold and push, gradually rolling the dough toward you in a tapered roll. Holding the dough by one of the tapered ends, lift it high over your head and slap it down on the counter (this part is lots of fun); do this several times until it stretches out lengthwise. Repeat the folding-and-pushing maneuver. Continue working the dough–slapping, folding, and pushing–for 8 minutes. [Since my dough was chilly, I had to work it a bit longer.] Shape the dough into a thick, cigar-shaped loaf that’s thick in the middle and tapered at the ends. Place it on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. Cover with a damp towel, and let it rest 30 minutes.

[I was just about ready to put bread in the oven when my mate toddled into the kitchen, started slicing an (existing) loaf of (fancy, gourmet-store) bread, and sliced his thumb in the process. It needed professional medical attention, so I turned off the oven, left the dough, took him to urgent care, and returned 2 hours later. It looked fine when I returned.]

5. Use a sharp knife to cut a 1-inch-deep lengthwise slash on top of the dough. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of the dough with water. Slide the dough onto the preheated baking stone. Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F (do not remove bread from oven), and bake an additional 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf.

[Note: Yes, I have tried Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe, printed in The New York Times a couple of years ago. The dog ate the dough that was proofing on the counter, which could happen anyway, but I’d also rather knead the bread and enjoy it the same day I crave it.]

Recession food: Homemade strawberry jam

strawberry-jam

Strawberry jam made with fruit purchased on sale. Does this make me an artisanal producer?

This week, I was working on a story for a Web site about how to eat supper for under a buck per serving when I got some simple advice from Julie Parrish, co-founder of the sites HotCouponWorld.com and OrganicGroceryDeals.com. Even if you never clip a coupon, supermarkets are rich with unadvertised, last-minute bargains that you should snap when you find them. Get the stuff home, she said, and figure out what to do with it later.

If you spot a great deal at the supermarket, buy it and decide what to do with it later.

You would think someone whose blog is named “Eat Cheap” would do that anyway, but there you have it. As this recession deepens, I’m still learning what it really means to shop and eat frugally. I’m old enough to remember the recession of the 1970s, but I was a just a kid then and mostly recall our family’s belt-tightening involved my mother buying store-brand plastic wrap. She probably did much more than that, but I was unobservant in these matters.

So after talking to Julie, I visited the supermarket with new eyes and spied all kinds of goodies on the cheap–two pounds of Tillamook butter for $7 (a great deal and we’ll use it up long before its May expiration date), a couple of lamb sirloin steaks for 5 bucks. But the best buy, by far, was two pounds of fresh strawberries for $3.

I took one look and thought, “Jam.”

You see, my mate is British, and jam is a staple of his diet (along with PG Tips tea, bread, and butter–hence, why we’ll plow through the bargain Tillamook in no time). He probably goes through jar of jam every week or so. And he likes the good stuff–Bonne Maman and the like. No Smuckers preserves for him. He recently weaned himself from a minor addiction to a very fancy-schmancy (i.e., expensive) Italian jam, so the Bonne Maman is a step down for him.

Still, as I pondered the piles of sale strawberries, I recalled that jam is dead simple to make. Basically, just combine fruit and sugar and simmer the hell out of it until it’s a sweet, fruity mush. And that’s what I did last night, stopping to stir the goo between sips of cheapo Sangiovese and catching up on “Nip/Tuck” on Hulu (Lesbian Liz has finally left Christian the Cad–really, it was doomed from the start).

“It’s Ali’s Artisanal Jam,” my mate declared as he slathered it on toast this morning. So that’s it, I’m not just thrifty, I’m an artisan. And you can be one, too, with this recipe.

You-Can-be-an-Artisanal-Producer Strawberry Jam

I used a bit more sugar than usual because the strawberries aren’t quite in season yet, and not as juicy and sweet as they will be in a few months. Taste your berries first and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly–if they’re sweet and juicy, you’ll need less. Also play around around with the flavorings you add at the end. A couple teaspoons of lemon juice can stand in for the Cointreau and vanilla. This is a refrigerator jam, so plan to use it within 5 days. Not a problem in our household.

1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely 

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon Cointreau

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until thickened, stirring every so often. Remove from heat; stir in the Cointreau and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate (jam will continue to thicken as it cools). Yield: about 2 cups.

Roasted vegetable medley

Hmm, I’m not wild about the word “medley”–sounds like something you’d see performed on the “Lawrence Welk Show”–but it’s better than, say, “melange.” And it describes today’s recipe, which can include a mix of whatever hearty veggies you like.

This one was inspired by the gorgeous cauliflower I picked up at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market this week. Normally, I don’t get that excited by cauliflower. It’s fine, but it’s…cauliflower. But the bouquets on display were so pristine and gorgeous that I thought, “yum, cauliflower!” and bought a bunch, along with some beets and Yukon potatoes.

The beet greens and some of the cauliflower went into a pasta toss earlier this week. The rest went into this combo of roasted vegetables.

Farmers' market finds inspire a mess o' roasted veggies.

Farmers' market finds inspire a mess o' roasted veggies.

Roasted Vegetable Medley

There’s no need to get out measuring cups and spoons for this one. Just be sure you can arrange the veggies in a single layer on the baking sheet. If not, split them up between two sheets. Use any combination of hearty vegetables you like. Peeling and chopping the beets before roasting is a cool trick I picked up from The New York Times. Toss the beets with oil separately from the cauliflower and potatoes to minimize staining the light-colored veggies.

3 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Olive oil

White wine vinegar

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

6 small, thin-skinned potatoes (such as Yukon golds), cut into 1-inch pieces

Pinch dried thyme (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Place beets in a medium bowl. Add about 2 tablespoons oil and a splash of vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Arrange beets in a single layer on a foil-covered, rimmed baking sheet.

3. Place cauliflower and potatoes in bowl. Add about 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet with beets. Bake at 450 degrees F for 30 minutes, stirring veggies after 15 minutes. Yield: 2-4 servings.

Resolutions that work, part 3: Eat your greens

 

What's not to love? Kale's sturdy leaves boast earthy, cabbage-y flavor that's perfect with winter dishes.

Pretty and tasty: Kale's sturdy leaves boast earthy, cabbage-y flavor that's perfect with winter dishes.

My mother never told me to eat my greeens, because she never made them. I’m not sure if she didn’t like greens or just wasn’t sure what to do with them, but spinach, collards, kale, and other hearty cooking greens are something I only came to enjoy as an adult.

And I’d like to join my friend, freelance writer and editor Hillari Dowdle, in her 2009 endeavor to eat more hearty, dark greens. Of course, greens are good for you–they’re rich in a host of vitamins (especially vitamins A and C), minerals (like iron and manganese), and phytonutrients. Even better, hearty greens are at their peak right now, and their earthy flavor is a perfect fit for winter meals.

Select greens that have fresh, crisp, unblemished leaves; they’ll keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Their leaves tend to trap dirt and grit, so you’ll want to wash them thoroughly. I like to do this in a salad spinner after trimming and chopping the leaves. You also can dunk the leaves several times in a large bowl or sink filled with water; this allows any grit to settle at the bottom. You’ll want to trim away the thick, fibrous stems of tough greens like collards. 

Select greens that have fresh, crisp, unblemished leaves; they’ll keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. 

Sally Schneider has some helpful guidelines for cooking with greens in her book A New Way to Cook:

Tender greens (those with young, small, and supple leaves) can be cooked quickly (i.e., sauteed or briefly boiled) or eaten raw.

Mature greens (those with large, tough leaves) must be cooked. You may want to blanch them (cooked in boiling water for a minute or two) before proceeding with a recipe. Blanching also renders bitter greens less assertive. Mature greens also fare well braised or boiled.

Though you can use most greens interchangeably, their  flavor ranges from mild to spicy. For substitution guidelines, visit The Cook’s Thesaurus  (a site worth bookmarking). Here’s a rundown of a few of my faves:

Beet greens: If you buy a bunch of beets with the leaves still attached, don’t throw those delicious, earthy-tasting leaves away. Instead, simply saute them, much as you would spinach. Yum!

Broccoli rabe has a pungent, bitter quality that Italian cooks adore. A bit of olive oil and salt helps tame the bitterness. Try it steamed, braised, or fried.

The Italians also love bitter chicory, which they boil and serve with a white sauce, or puree with a touch of cream.

I’ve come to love the mild flavor of collard greens, which generally benefit from long braising, though you also could saute them  (see my recipe below).

Kale is a part of the cabbage family, so it (not surprisingly) has a cabbage-y quality. Discard the center stem and treat the curly leaves much the way you would spinach. Frilly-leaved kale is the most common variety, but you’ll find other types (lacinto, for example) at farmers’  markets and gourmet stores.

For a spicy, peppery bite, try mustard greens, which do well braised with bacon. For an even more assertive selection, try turnip greens.

Spinach may well be the most popular variety. Large, mature leaves should be cooked (steamed, boiled, braised), while baby spinach does fine with a quick saute.

This is by no means a complete list. If you visit an ethnic market or farmers’ market, you’ll find many other varieties. Just ask the merchant for tips to cook them.

QUICK COLLARDS

Taking a few moments to thinly slice hearty greens like collards means they’ll cook quickly–ideal if you want to serve this with a weeknight supper. I find it’s easiest to wash the greens in a colander or salad spinner after they’ve been trimmed and sliced. You can treat other greens, like kale, chard, mustard greens, or turnip greens, the same way. This will look like an ungodly amount greens once you have them trimmed and sliced, but it cooks down, much like spinach. 

1 pound fresh collard greens (or other hearty greens)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne or cracked red pepper

1/2 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1. Trim the center ribs from the collard leaves. Stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar; thinly slice (chiffonade).

2. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add a large handful of collards to pan; cook until collards wilt. Repeat with remaining collards until all of them are in the pan. Stir in salt and peppers; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth; cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates and collards are tender. Yields 4-6 servings.

Resolutions that work, part 1: Fruit of the day

Resolutions that work, part 2: Pay attention to what you eat

Hop to it, baby

 

A bowl of Hoppin' John and collard greens is a fine way to start 2009.

A bowl of Hoppin' John and collard greens is a fine way to start 2009.

I’ve been in transition for some time now, but things started to fall into place when my moving pod of belongings arrived from Alabama on New Year’s Eve. As we unloaded box after box of kitchen gear, I thought, “Ah, now I can make this. I can make that.”

To pay homage to my former home, and because, hell, we all could use some good luck going into 2009, I decided to make a pot of Hoppin’ John. The Southern Low Country dish is a simple melange of black-eyed peas, rice, tomatoes, and some kind of pork (a ham hock, sausage, bacon, whatever), and it’s supposed to bring good luck to those who partake on New Year’s Day.

For the most luck, you should eat a bowl of the stuff at the stroke of midnight. We were at a party in  a penthouse condo overlooking Marina del Rey at midnight, so I sought my luck in a lychee martini. That meant we had our Hoppin’ John at the end of New Year’s Day, so we may only acquire a little luck. I’ll take it. In any case, I figured a pot of Hoppin’ John and the traditional side of collard greens would have  some curative benefits for my mate, who was feeling a tad delicate after the previous evening’s festivities.

Of course, Hoppin’ John’s good-luck powers are well known beyond the South, but I still figured there’d be no problem finding the ingredients at Whole Foods in Venice on New Year’s afternoon. That’s where my luck started to waver. When I approached the bulk bean bins, I was dismayed to find  the dried black-eyed peas bin empty. Not a lone pea to be found. Uh, oh, a whole lot of folks in the Marina and Venice were eating our good luck. Not to worry, I assumed there must be frozen or canned or some kind of black-eyed pea elsewhere in this vast food temple. 

The last two cans of black-eyed peas in the Venice Whole Foods. Good thing I already had a bag of popcorn rice.

My prize: The last two cans of black-eyed peas in the Venice Whole Foods. Good thing I already had a bag of popcorn rice.

Um, not really. No peas in the frozen section. No packaged dried peas, either. Canned peas were starting to sound really, really good at that point. Of course, the shelf space for canned black-eyed peas was empty. I fished around in the dark recesses of the shelf and came up with The Last Two Cans of Black-Eyed Peas. Eureka!

I had better luck finding  collards in the produce section. I picked up two  gorgeous bunches with giant, fresh, green leaves that bode well for prosperity in the new year. At the very least, we’d get a ton of antioxidants.

So, it was in a somewhat triumphant mood that I returned home to make a pot of Hoppin’ John and a side of collard greens.

Hoppin’ John from a Can

I adapted this recipe from Matt Lee and Ted Lee’s version for The New York Times. Canned beans may not have been my first choice, but since I didn’t have to soak dried beans, this New Year’s Day specialty came together quickly. Louisiana popcorn rice is an aromatic long-grain variety that’s a Cajun speciality; it actually smells liked popped corn. You can use any type of long-grain rice. I had some lovely Black Forest bacon on hand, but you could substitute any bacon, a more-traditional ham hock, or even sausage. Serve with hot sauce–Tabasco would be a natural, but I love the bright flavor of Asian-style sriracha.

3 thick-cut slices bacon, chopped

1 cup chopped onion

2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teapoon cayenne

6 canned whole peeled tomatoes

11/2 cups Louisiana popcorn rice (or any long-grain rice)

Hot sauce (optional) 

1. Cook bacon over medium heat in a large saucepan for 3 minutes, or until the bacon renders its fat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Add peas, broth, salt, and peppers;. Use kitchen shears to cut up the tomatoes in a bowl or measuring cup; add tomatoes to the pan. Bring to a boil; add rice. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve with hot sauce. Yields 6 servings.

Quick Collards

Traditionally, collards are cooked with pork fat and boiled. For an old-school version, try Southern Living‘s Country-Style Collards. Since my Hoppin’ John was coming together quickly, I opted to chiffonade my collards and saute them. This will look like an ungodly amount greens once you have them trimmed and sliced, but it cooks down, much like spinach. I find it’s easiest to wash the greens in a colander or salad spinner after they’ve been trimmed and sliced .

1 pound fresh collard greens

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1. Trim the center ribs from the collard leaves. Stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar; thinly slice (chiffonade).

2. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add a large handful of collards to pan; cook until collards wilt. Repeat with remaining collards until all of them are in the pan. Stir in salt and peppers; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth; cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates and collards are tender. Yields 4-6 servings.

 

 

 

Food of the year: Bacon

 

Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

2008 may well go down as the year I finally embraced bacon. I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around. My mom was a fiend for bacon–one of the last things I remember her eating was fat scallops wrapped in bacon. She ordered rashers of the stuff when she was in the hospital with lung cancer, much to the consternation of the staff nutritionists. They’d call to set her straight.

“Mrs. Mann, we got your order, and I’m afraid bacon doesn’t count as a protein.”

“That’s not really an issue for me now,” she’d reply. “Send me the bacon.”

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. I love i’s smoky flavor and crunch, which elevates all manner of dishes. I also appreciate  the flavorful fat it renders, which I use to saute, well, anything, really.

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. 

Of course, I’m latecomer to a really big party, because bacon has always had a passionate following. I (Heart) Bacon is a Seattle-based blog devoted to cured pig products. Another one is Bacon Freak (i.e., “Bacon is Meat Candy”), where you can order everything from gift baskets of bacon to gummy bacon candy. Serious Eats just named bacon one of their top posts for 2008.

I picked up a half-pound of Black Forest bacon, a thickly sliced, German-style smoked and cured variety, at the Whole Foods meat counter the other day. And I’ve enjoyed it this week with Brussels sprouts and spinach, and in place of unsmoked pancetta in Bon Appetit‘s Fettuccine Carbonara with Fried Eggs (I also omitted the fried eggs and used spinach in place of the broccoli rabe). But here’s how I use it with Brussels sprouts in my current favorite side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Black Forest Bacon

Brussels sprouts and bacon have a special affinity. You can use any type of bacon in this easy side dish, though the smokiness of Black Forest bacon is especially nice. Depending on the type of bacon you use, you may not need much (or any) salt. Quartering the sprouts helps them cook quickly. You could add shallots with the garlic, if you like, or deglaze the pan with white wine instead of broth. Serve with roasted pork tenderloin or chicken.

1 pound small Brussels sprouts

2 slices Black Forest bacon, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Trim away the outer leaves and stalk end of the Brussels sprouts. Cut sprouts into quarters.

2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 5 minutes, or until bacon starts to get crisp and render its fat. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds. Add sprouts, saute 5 minutes. Add broth, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce heat, and cook 3 minutes, or until sprouts are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

Lunch for 1

 

Grilled Asparagus is a supereasy side for any meal.

Grilled Asparagus with a quesadilla is my idea of a great lunch.

Lunchtime rolls around, and I don’t always want to pop out to pick something up. Today, I had a hankering for my favorite comfort food: quesadillas, which are basically my go-to breakfast/lunch/dinner. I like mine made with corn tortillas and Monterey Jack cheese, cooked in a grill pan (if you don’t own one, get one–you’ll be glad you did). I love the way the tortillas puff up as a they cook. Add a dollop of Sriracha hot sauce, and I’m ready to chow down.

Today, I wanted some kind of side, and I had some asparagus in the fridge. OK, granted, asparagus aren’t exactly in season (they’re a spring veggie), but the stuff is in the supermarket all the time now. I’m not sure it even knows it has a season anymore, but that’s an issue for another post. I also had limes on hand, so I could make one of my favorite, all-time sides. Here’s the recipe.

Grilled Asparagus for 1

The amounts aren’t exact on this, and you can use other veggies instead of asparagus. I’ve made this with sliced zucchini and summer squash for a summertime appetizer. Of course, you can make this on an outdoor grill; just be sure to skewer the asparagus or cook them in a grill basket.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon OR lime juice 

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 ounces trimmed asparagus

Fleur de sel (optional)

1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a shallow dish; stir with a fork or whisk to combine. Add the asparagus; toss to coat. Let stand 20 minutes.

2. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and marinade. Grill 4 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and some grill marks have formed. The cook time really depends on the thickness of the asparagus; very thin stalks will just need a few minutes, while thicker stalks will need more time. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, if you like. Yield: 1 serving.

Keen-what?

 

 

Quinoa's tiny grains are packed with protein and fiber.

Quinoa's tiny grains are packed with protein and fiber.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) a South American grain that’s high in protein with a delicate flavor and texture similar to couscous. (The Incas loved the stuff, apparently.) You can find it in many supermarkets, most health-food stores, or online. It’s available in white or a heritage variety called Inca Red (they taste the same). You can cook it just like rice, adding whatever herbs or other ingredients you like. Here’s my recipe for a simple pilaf.

 

Easy Quinoa Pilaf. Really easy.

Easy Quinoa Pilaf. Really easy.

Easy Quinoa Pilaf

Add this to your repertoire for a versatile side dish; it’s great with grilled salmon and asparagus, for instance, or roast chicken. This recipe has a large yield, but leftovers will keep in the fridge of a few days. You can add chopped chicken or shrimp for a brown-bag lunch. Once you know the basic method and proportions, you can change it up in any number ways. Use Italian parsley or fresh sage instead of cilantro, perhaps, or trade the pecans for pine nuts or walnuts.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (12-ounce) package quinoa, rinsed in necessary (about 1 3/4 cups)*

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth**

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons toasted finely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

 

Toasting the quinoa intensifies its flavor and color.

Toasting the quinoa intensifies its flavor and color.

1. First, toast the quinoa, which enhances its subtle nutty flavor. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the quinoa, and cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until toasted. You’ll hear the quinoa grains pop as they cook.

2. Add the onion and garlic; saute 2 minutes or until the onion has softened.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the broth (the mixture will pop and bubble). Return the pan to the heat, and stir in the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat. Uncover, fluff with a fork, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the pecans, cilantro, and juice. Yield: 4 1/2 cups; 8 servings.

* Uncooked quinoa needs to be soaked and thoroughly rinsed to remove saponin, a naturally occurring chemical compound that’s harmless but tastes bitter. But brands like Ancient Harvest sell quinoa that has been pre-washed and -rinsed, so you can skip this step.

**If you’re using broth from a can, it won’t be quite 2 cups. Not to worry, just top it off with water.