Last night we had our monthly book club outside on Teri’s deck. We are a group of amazing, strong, intelligent and accomplished women who discuss current issues and books, laugh a lot, readily offer each other support and have thought-provoking discussions. We also enjoy a glass (or two) of wine and eat really good food. My time was short so I decided to make a quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) salad and only use ingredients that were in the house, while still making it gluten-free for someone in the group. I had slim pickings with frozen broccoli being the only vegetable available; it all came together with a quick walnut Dijon vinaigrette for Quinoa Marco Polo (keep reading for why I chose that name). We discussed “The Last Chinese Chef”, a foodie novel by Nicole Mones (author of Lost in Translation). Yes, it was my recommendation last month and I enjoyed the discussions about the book – it’s been a while since food was the main topic of our book selection. This recipe was simple to pull together with minimal ingredients. My pantry is typically stocked with quinoa because it’s a versatile whole grain that can be served as a side salad, main dish or used to stuff vegetables.
I buy Eden Foods Organic Quinoa (uncooked grains shown at right), available at my local grocery store in the rice aisle. This whole grain has a nutty flavor, is rich in fiber, ready in less than 20 minutes and easy to cook. According to their package, quinoa is grown in the Andes at over 11,000 feet in elevation and called the “chisaya mama”, mother of all grain. When cooked, the grain puffs up and the outer shell has a light give – they have a great texture. I like to mix in some of the walnut Dijon dressing with the quinoa while it is still hot so it absorbs more of the flavors.
Why call this recipe Quinoa Marco Polo? With broccoli as the main vegetable and having the other ingredients on hand, I thought it would be fun to pay homage to the long-ago restaurant, The Good Earth. They made an unforgettable, delicious entrée called Chicken Marco Polo that had a cooked grain, chicken, broccoli, walnuts, onions, raisins, water chestnuts, a creamy mustard sauce and topped off with melted cheddar cheese. There isn’t any chicken or cheese in this recipe but the walnut Dijon vinaigrette dressing gives it a great zing of flavor. It’s perfect for the nutty, light quinoa along with the mixture of red onions, broccoli, toasted walnuts and sweet raisins.
This is one of my favorite books; the vivid and descriptive writing transported me to the kitchen where the character created delectable, tradition-filled dishes. I also developed a new respect for the Chinese history and culinary traditions. Here is an excerpt from Nicole Mones’ website: “You may know Chinese food; you may even love it. But The Last Chinese Chef will take you into a world of Chinese food you never even knew existed. Here is the hidden universe of one of the world’s great cuisines. Its philosophy, its concepts, and its artistic ambitions are all illuminated in a story that’s entertaining, emotionally satisfying, and erudite…… This is a novel of food, friendship, and falling in love, one that will forever change the way you look at Chinese food.”
If you haven’t tried quinoa, you should give it taste – it’s perfect for a pot luck or picnic. Eat well and share the love!
Quinoa Marco Polo
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies
Total Cooking Time: 20 minutes Total Prep Time: 10 minutes
Walnut Dijon Vinaigrette
4 tablespoons walnut oil
1 teaspoon good white vinegar (white balsamic or Pinot Grigio)
1 ½ teaspoons stone ground mustard
¼ teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup Quinoa grains (yields about 2 cups cooked)
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup thinly sliced red onions, cut into thirds
6 to 7 broccoli florettes, sliced (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons raisins
½ cup walnuts (toasted), broken into pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Walnut Dijon Vinaigrette
Add all ingredients to a small blender and pulse a few times until well emulsified. If you have it, use your immersion blender with the small blender attachment to make the dressing.
Bring water to boil and add stir in the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork. Add 1 tablespoon of the Walnut Dijon vinaigrette and stir well to coat all the grains.
While the quinoa is cooking, start the vegetables. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. Add the sliced onions, ¼ teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and sauté until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the broccoli, raisins and walnuts along with a good drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir well and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add the cooked quinoa to the vegetable mixture along with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and stir well. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the salad and serve.
- If using fresh broccoli, blanch the florettes in salted boiling water for 1 ½ minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut into slices.
- Quinoa Marco Polo can be served hot or cold. Can be made one day ahead – cover and refrigerate; reserve remaining vinaigrette and add before serving.