Superstar quinoa pushes couscous onto back burner

Not too long ago, couscous was the darling of the chef’s kitchen. This grainlike pasta could be found on every menu, used in salads, main dishes and stuffings. While it is still widely used today, couscous is taking a back seat to a new star, quinoa.

Nutritionists call quinoa a “super grain” that yields a nutritional powerhouse of protein, iron and other nutrients. The interesting thing is that although it tastes, looks and behaves like a grain, it is not a grain (think Passover cooking) and belongs to the spinach family.

Quinoa comes in colors from white to red to black. I love the red because of its nutty flavor and the color it adds to any dish. These not-grains sprout a little tail while cooking, which gives them a delightful crunchy texture.

Mostly imported from Bolivia, quinoa has a protective, natural coating of saponins that can make it taste soapy and bitter, so make sure to rinse for a minute or two in a strainer before cooking.


Quinoa and Black Beans

Serves 4-6

2 Tbs. oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 cup uncooked quinoa

11⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

3⁄4 tsp. ground cumin

1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup frozen corn kernels

15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained

1⁄3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté until lightly browned.

Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with broth. Season with cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Stir frozen corn into the saucepan and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.


Quinoa for Breakfast

Serves 4

1 cup low- or full-fat milk

1 cup water

1 cup quinoa

2 cups fresh blackberries or blueberries

1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1⁄3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 Tbs. honey, or to taste

Combine milk, water and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat; let stand covered 5 minutes. Stir in berries and cinnamon; transfer to four bowls and top with pecans. Drizzle honey over each serving.


Quinoa and Beet Salad

Serves 4-6

6 beets, trimmed

1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar

1⁄4 cup minced shallots

2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed

1⁄2 cup olive oil

11⁄2 cups quinoa

3 cups crumbled feta cheese

1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced

2 cups chopped fresh arugula

Cook beets in large saucepan of boiling water until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain. Cool. Peel beets. Cut beets into thin wedges. Place in medium bowl.

Whisk vinegar, shallots and fennel seeds in small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1⁄4 cup vinaigrette over beets; toss to coat.

Cook quinoa in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well. Rinse with cold water and drain again. Place quinoa in large bowl. Add cheese, fennel and arugula and mix gently. Add remaining dressing and toss to coat. Transfer salad to large bowl. Arrange beets atop salad.

Louise Fiszer
is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected]