QUINOA AND POMEGRANATES
I cooked for the family for Rosh Hashanah, including my parents, a brother and one of his daughters, Tehillah, and, for one meal, a sister and one of her sons and family came. Various friends and friends of friends came to various meals as well. All the dishes were praised and heartily consumed, but one of my improvised salads was a particularly popular hit, quinoa salad with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint. These two foods, quinoa from South America and pomegranates, possibly a native of central Asia, came together in a refreshing and healthy salad.
More than 5,000 years ago, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah and meaning “mother grain” in Incan) was cultivated in the Andean highlands. This pseudo-grain (technically, quinoa is the fruit of a leafy plant, not a seed of cereal grasses, but it is treated like a grain) became of such importance to the Incas that they considered it sacred. At the beginning of the growing season, the emperor himself would dig the first shovelful of earth with a golden spade and plant the first quinoa. The Spanish leader Francisco Pizarro, however, viewed this unfamiliar grain as a component of paganism and was determined to exterminate it (and quite a few human beings as well). Even the mere possession of this pre-Columbian grain was declared a crime. In place of quinoa, the Spanish planted the more familiar barley, in order to produce beer, and wheat. Only in the remote highlands far from the reach of the conquistadors did quinoa survive. In the late 20th century, as botanists searched for specially nutritious grains to help feed the masses, quinoa was rediscovered by the world.
This pre-Columbian pseudo grain, there are actually more than 1,800 varieties, is prized as a source of nutrition. Quinoa is the only “grain” that contains complete protein as well as a highest protein content (about 17 percent) than any grain. It is also high in thiamine, iron, phosphorus, lysine, and vitamin B-6. Among quinoa’s other attributes is that it flourishes in harsh environments and requires no insecticides since the grains are coated by saponins which naturally repel birds and insects. The quinoa, however, should be well rinsed before cooking since the saponin is bitter.
The primary way to prepare quinoa is to simmer it in water. The germ, located on the outside of the grain, splits when cooked, but the grain retains a crunch. In South America, it is also ground and used to make tortillas.
I first discovered quinoa back in the late 1980s during my days at Kosher Gourmet magazine, when some friends at Eden Foods sent me some packages of this then new item in America with which to experiment. I have been a big fan ever since. But I have never paired it with pomegranate before. As I was preparing the holiday dishes and thinking of some healthy sides (to compensate for some of the carbohydrates) and I was seeding a pomegranate (it really isn’t hard if you know how) and I thought why not. Both of these ancient foods, quinoa and pomegranates, have only recently become fashionable items in America and now East meets West. My mother had just gotten some fresh mint from her CSA and it went in too and added an extra note of flavor to the dish without overpowering it.
Quinoa salad is extremely adaptable, so adjust the ingredients to your preferences and what’s in your pantry. You can substitute any fruit, including apples and pears, for the pomegranate.
1 cup (240 ml) raw quinoa = 6 ounces/170 grams
= 2.75 cups (675 ml) cooked
1 cup (240 ml) cooked quinoa = 7.1 ounces/210 grams
= 171 calories
(6 to 8 servings as a side dish)
1 cup (240 ml) quinoa
2 cups (480 ml) water or chicken broth
Pinch of salt
3 to 4 tablespoons (45 to 60 ml) fresh lemon or lime juice or balsamic vinegar
About ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) olive, nut, or vegetable oil
¼ cup (60 ml) pomegranate seeds
¼ cup (60 ml) golden raisins, chopped dried apricots, or dried cranberries
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped fresh mint or parsley
¼ cup (60 ml) sliced scallions
1. Cover the quinoa with cold water, swirl, and drain through a fine strainer. Repeat.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Add the quinoa, return to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (about 18 minutes). Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer the quinoa to a medium bowl.
3. To make the dressing: Combine the lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the oil. Drizzle over the warm quinoa and toss to coat. Stir in the pomegranate seeds, raisins, mint, and scallions. The salad may be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.