Quinoa started appearing in the Bon Appetit test kitchen during my last year or two at the magazine. I could see it was gaining in popularity, but I just didn’t like it much. I preferred orzo, couscous, and bulgur wheat. That was before my childhood celiac disease resurfaced and I had to give up all wheat products.
I decided to try quinoa again as I started focusing on satisfying, naturally gluten-free foods for my new diet. At first I was happy depending on potatoes, polenta, and brown Jasmine and basmati rice as staples, but I wanted more variety. I am happy I chose to play around with quinoa. Not only is it super nutritious, I found an easy technique to make it super delicious too, and it is a featured ingredient in my new book, Weeknight Gluten Free.
Step #1. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly. Rinsing is important to remove the natural, bitter coating of saponin that protects the tiny grains from birds and insects as they mature. Rinsing always sounded cumbersome for weeknight cooking, but it quickly became as easy as toasting bread for breakfast. Measure the quinoa right into the pan it will cook in. Cover generously with cold water, swish it around a few times and pour the water and quinoa into a fine strainer. Return the grains to the pan and repeat 3 more times. This takes about 1 minute total.
Step #2. Use less water than the package calls for. For 1 cup quinoa, add 1½ cups water, otherwise it will turn out to be soggy rather than delightfully al dente.
Step #3. Cook until the water is absorbed, it only takes about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes to steam. Then fluff with a fork.
Step #4. Flavor it. Mix in 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil plus 2-4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, green onions, or red onion.
It wasn’t until I attended the gluten-free retreat in February, that I learned how healthful quinoa is, especially for people on a wheat-free diet. Melinda Dennis, our teacher and nutrition coordinator at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, introduced us to what she calls the Super Six Grains—alternatives to wheat that are high in vitamins and fiber, and quinoa is one of the six. It is a particular star because it’s also high in good quality protein.
I was eager to put into practice what I had learned at the retreat, and my first night home I braised chicken thighs with red bell peppers and lemon to serve atop quinoa. Steve loves lemon and bell peppers, so I thought that would be a good way to bring him along on my quinoa adventure. I have continued to expand my quinoa repertoire and soon will post a recipe for a quinoa dish to bring to parties. In the meantime, I encourage you to try the chicken and quinoa recipe this weekend.
Braised Chicken with Red Bell Peppers and Lemon over Quinoa
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1¼ to 1½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, cut into ¾ -inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- ⅓ cup dry vermouth
- 1½ cups gluten-free chicken broth
- Grated zest and juice from 1 large lemon
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Quinoa with Basil
- 1 cup quinoa, preferably red
- 1½ cups water
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- For the chicken: Heat the oil in a heavy, 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and pepper flakes to the skillet and cook until the outside of the chicken is white, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Add the onion, bell peppers, and rosemary to the skillet and cook until beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add the dry vermouth and bring to a boil, stirring up any browned bits. Return the chicken to the skillet with any juices on the plate. Add the broth, lemon zest and juice, and tomato paste to the skillet. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa: Place the quinoa in a heavy small saucepan. Cover generously with cold water, swish around a few times, and then pour through a fine strainer. Return the quinoa to the pan and repeat rinsing and draining 3 more times. Return the quinoa to the pan, add 1½ cups water and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand 5 minutes to steam. Fluff the quinoa with a fork. Mix in the oil and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- When the chicken is tender, uncover and simmer until the liquid is syrupy, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the quinoa among 4 warmed plates. Spoon the chicken, vegetables, and sauce over and serve.