Quinoa Chowder with Sweet Corn

It’s no secret that diets high in whole grains are healthy. One reason is because of their high fiber content, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. One of the shortcomings of whole grains, though, is their lack of protein.

But if you are looking for a food that can deliver the same heart-health benefits as cereal grasses such as wheat and barley and fulfill your protein requirements, search no further than quinoa.

The grain-like seed native to South America has been singled out by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations as a food with “high nutritive value” and impressive biodiversity that has an important role to play in the achievement of food security worldwide. In fact, the FAO has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.”

Quinoa has become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years because of its interesting texture, great peanut-like flavor and nutritional superiority. It can be served alone as a side-dish or as part of a main entree, and its mild flavor makes it a great substitute for couscous, bulgur or rice in recipes.

Nutritionally quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, is gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole grain, is kosher for Passover and is almost always organic. (One-third cup of cooked quinoa has 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.)

Here’s a recipe for quinoa that I heard about the other day during an NPR interview with chef Jose Garces, a Philadelphia-based restaurateur, author of  “The Latin Road Home” and son of Ecuadorean immigrants.

Crema de Quinoa de Zuleta
(Quinoa Chowder with Sweet Corn)
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 small russet potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
1 tablespoon achiote paste
1½ cups quinoa (any color)
Kernels cut from 2 ears fresh white sweet corn or 1 cup thawed and drained frozen white corn kernels
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or cut into 1½ -inch strips
¼ pound smoked bacon, cut into strips, cooked until crisp, and drained
Sliced avocado, for serving
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees in a Dutch oven over medium heat, using a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the temperature.  Fry the potatoes  in batches, turning in the oil until golden brown and very crispy on all sides, 1 to 2 minutes per  batch. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried potatoes to the baking sheet to drain and cool.
Season to taste with salt. Heat the butter and olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Cook the  onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the achiote paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and corn and cook, stirring often, until the grain is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and cream and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer the chowder uncovered until the quinoa is very tender and the liquid is
reduced by one-quarter, about 45 minutes. To serve, fold in the parsley, chives, bacon, and fried potatoes. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with avocado.
Yield: Serves 4.

One-Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

Some people find it hard to get excited about vegetarian meals. For many of them, it could have something to do with growing up in a meat-and-potatoes culture.

In the family of my youth, meat usually was the centerpiece of most meals. That’s not to say we didn’t eat a lot of vegetables because we did. But as I’ve grow older, the focus has been less on meat and more on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

In fact, some of my favorite dishes contain no meat, just like the following one-pot meal. It contains kale, a leafy green, and quinoa, an ancient supergrain. Both are highly nutritious and have been gaining in popularity recently.

Quinoa has been called the “mother grain of the Incas,” who began cultivating it at least 3,000 years ago. Technically, it’s a seed that takes on a grain-like consistency when cooked. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium, iron, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, copper and zinc. It’s also gluten-free. And to top it off, quinoa contains eight essential amino acids.
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Kale, on the other hand, also is a nutritional powerhouse, being packed with vitamin A, C, K, lutein (for healthy eyes) and beta-carotene. Other health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration of two kinds of antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids, which are associated with many of the anti-cancer health benefits.

I would say that this dish, adapted from “The Food 52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Morrow, $35), is an excellent way to get on track to healthy eating during National Nutrition Month.

One-Pot Kale and Quina Pilaf
1 cup quinoa, rinsed under running water
1 bunch kale, washed and chopped into 1-inch lengths
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil (or olive oil)
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
¼ cup crumbled soft goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring 2 cups salted water to a boil over high heat in a large pot with a cover. Add the quinoa, cover and lower the heat to just maintain a simmer. Cook 10 minutes. Top the quinoa with the kale and re-cover. Simmer another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the quinoa and kale to steam 5 minutes.
While the quinoa is cooking, combine the lemon zest, half the lemon juice, the scallions, oil, pine nuts and goat cheese in a large serving bowl.
Check the quinoa and kale — the water should be absorbed, the quinoa tender but firm and the kale tender and bright green. If the quinoa still has a hard white center, you can steam it a bit longer, adding more water if needed.
When quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf transfer it to the serving bowl. As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon, it should smell lovely. Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper and the remaining lemon juice if needed.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 300 calories, 39 percent of calories from fat, 13.7 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 3.4 grams monounsaturated), 6.5 milligrams cholesterol, 11.6 grams protein, 36.7 grams carbohydrates, 5.6 grams fiber, 78 milligrams sodium.