I did it! I conquered the quinoa! I thought about ways to desi-fy it since practically anything cooked in a curry sauce in this house gets consumed in minutes. Since I had this bag of frozen spinach in the fridge, I thought about doing a take on the classic palak paneer, replacing the protein in the form of paneer (cheese) with quinoa.
Before you cringe at the thought of sullying your favorite buttery, cheesy spinach dish with healthy food, keep in mind – it passed my taste test! In fact as I ate it throughout the week (the hubby helped – though the kids did not), and even went on to make French green lentils with the leftover vegetable stock, I really started acquiring a taste for these plant based proteins. When I had chicken after about two weeks, the poultry smell actually bothered me! Not to say I’m going vegan on you guys. No no no no. As I experiment with South Asian flavors and new ingredients, I’m excited to share some of the things I’ve been whipping up. On a side note: apparently the casual and sometimes excessive usage of the word “excited” or “exciting” is a uniquely American colloquialism. I found this out while reading the supremely entertaining and insightful novel Americanah about two Nigerians, following their lives in their home country and abroad. It reminds me a bit of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about a chubby Dominican kid growing up in the states. Both these novels do such a great job of relating the immigrant experience, part universal, part relative to their specific ethnic group. They overshadow most novels in that genre (recall the overly saccharine images of the Mama Ganguli making her holiday cards or the tired “behind the veil” stereotypes offered by Hosseini). I digress. I used tricolor quinoa for a nice balance of nutty and earthy flavors. The main difference between this preparation and past failed attempts at quinoa was SALT AND PEPPER. After cooking in the low sodium vegetable broth, it was OK. After seasoning to taste, I was like, “I could get used to this.” And the spinach puree, though not plated very well here, was amazing. Pair it with any of your favorite proteins (salmon, grilled chicken breast, etc.). I added a dollop of yogurt to balance the deep seated flavor, but you can add sour cream, creme fraiche or nothing at all!
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp light olive or vegetable oil
- a pinch of cumin seeds
- a pinch pach forom (optional)
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 12oz bag frozen spinach
- 2 green chilis
- 1/8 tsp ginger powder (or raw ginger, minced)
- 1 bay leaf
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp water
- In a small saucepan, bring the quinoa and vegetable broth (or chicken stock) to a boil. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the ring pops out of the quinoa. When it’s done, season with kosher salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp respectively). Set aside
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and pach forom, if using, and let it warm through until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Add onions and saute until translucent (about 4 min). Add garlic and chilis. Stir to combine. Then add the frozen spinach, breaking up clumps with your wooden spoon. When it’s manageable, add the remaining ingredients. Let simmer, covered, for 5-7 min.
- Remove one of the green chilis and a bay leaf. You can always add the second chili to the puree if you like it hotter. Carefully add the spinach mixture to a blender and blend, covered, until smooth. Add water as necessary to thin it out. WARNING: (In case you are as inexperienced with the blender as I am)I made mine a bit too thin by attempting to blend it with the “Smoothie” function. “Ice Crush” did a much better job, but it was too late, I added the extra water already.
- Serve on top of the quinoa, adding yogurt as desired.