It looks like a grain, it cooks like a grain, but it's not a grain. It's the seed of a member of the goosefoot family of plants, related to beets, spinach and chard. Containing 12-18% protein, it's one of the few plant foods to provide a complete balance of essential amino acids. Once cultivated by the ancient Incas, it was forbidden by the Catholic church due to its association with pre-Christian religious festivals. And it has the power to burn all hell out of your tongue if you taste it straight from the pot. It's quinoa!
In Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone , from whence this recipe hails, Deborah Madison writes: "I was drawn to [this recipe] because I simply couldn't imagine it. Now, one of my favorite dishes in any category, it makes a quick, wholesome meal."
Quibbling about her comma use aside, I entirely agree with her sentiment. This frankly weird-sounding blend of quinoa, potatoes, spinach, feta and (of all things) hard-cooked egg turns out to be deeply flavored, hearty and entirely satisfying. The quinoa retains just a bit of firmness, providing a great contrast to the yielding softness of the potatoes and the herbaceous tang of the cilantro. And of course, as April says, "Everything's betta with feta."
One more note on this recipe: Jim was running late to work yesterday, so he brought the whole large container of leftovers instead of dishing out half as he usually would. And to his own amazement, he ended up eating the whole thing for dinner. (Then he came home and ate Filipino Village Soup, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.)
Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta and Scallions
3/4 cup quinoa
2 quarts water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 to 2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
2 medium waxy potatoes (I used Yukon Golds), peeled and diced into 1/4" cubes
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (white and a bit of the green only), divided
3 cups thinly sliced spinach leaves
4 ounces feta cheese, diced into 1/4" cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
Rinse the quinoa well in a fine-meshed sieve. (Quinoa has a natural saponaceous coating that is quite bitter if not removed. Store-bought quinoa should have most of the coating removed already, but giving it a good rinse is still a good idea.) Combine in a soup pot with 2 quarts (that's 8 cups) water; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Drain, saving the water, and set aside. Measure the water and add more if needed to make 6 cups total.
Wipe out the pot with a kitchen towel. Add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or so. Add salt, cumin and potatoes. Cook, stirring pretty much constantly, for another couple of minutes. Don't let the garlic brown.
Add half the scallions and the reserved quinoa water. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add reserved quinoa, spinach and remaining scallions; simmer about 5 minutes more.
Remove from the heat and stir in the feta and cilantro. Taste and add pepper (and salt, if needed) as you see fit. Garnish each serving with chopped hard-cooked egg.
Image by Flickr user net_efekt. Used under a Creative Commons license.