I really like the idea of quinoa. The Andean pseudocereal is a complete protein, filling, easy to cook, and relatively cheap for what it delivers. My problem is that in its simplest prepared form it tastes musty and faintly of digestive biscuits and cat. In other words, the flavour of old-lady cardigan.
On Twitter I put out a call for recipes that avoided this common pitfall and ikapai sent me a link for a Serious Eats recipe called Quinoa Pilaf with Sweet Potatoes, Kale, and Bacon. I’ve had good luck with recipes from Serious Eats and all of the principal ingredients sounds appealing.
Bacon is especially appealing. I admit that the price of small-batch, high quality bacon (even when bought directly at the farm) can be twice what we pay for the watery stuff from the supermarket and that sticker shock is a relevant concern if you’re cooking it by the pound and expecting it to fill a particular space in a sandwich or on a plate beside eggs. But if the bacon is intended for one of the increasingly popular recipes that render its fat for flavour and reserve the bits for garnish (or if we’re honest, sustenance for the cook and kitchen onlookers) then the good stuff is definitely what’s called for.
This weekend I was lucky enough to be included on a blogger tour of Stratford where our first stop was McCully’s Hill Farm. I picked up a pound of their excellent maple-smoked bacon. The smoky maple force is strong with this one so I’ll reserve it (frozen in stacks of two slices that can be cut into lardons with little thawing) for the sort of flavouring roles mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Subbing broccoli for kale was, at first, a question of what happened to be in the vegetable drawer but I think I’d stick with it if I make this recipe again. Broccoli deflates less than kale does when roasted and that gives the dish some bulk to spread out the very filling quinoa.
This didn’t really occur to me when I tested the recipe but it’s silly for the original to ask you to use a quarter of a cooking onion and the greens from four scallions. It wouldn’t really be that difficult to find uses for the other three-quarters of the onion and the whites of the scallions but why bother? Instead I increase the scallions to five (or really however many you find bunched together in the store) and use the whites at the start and the greens for garnish.
Sweet potatoes, especially when roasted in a hot oven, can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned so they were left untouched.
As extra insurance against the dreaded it’s-good-for-you flavour I called in some heat from half a dried chili and some acid from sherry vinegar. Changing the pH of the liquid in which some grains and legumes are cooked can have a drastic effect on the cooking time and finished texture so I saved the splash of vinegar for the end.
Put as modestly as possible: This quinoa dish is outstanding. Served hot or at room temperature it would make an excellent lunch on its own and would go well with a grilled piece of meat or fish for dinner.
Quinoa and Company
Adapted from the Serious Eats recipe Meat Lite: Quinoa Pilaf With Sweet Potatoes, Kale, and Bacon
Cook Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 35 minutes
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 1/2 cup water
- one bunch scallions sliced into thin rounds, greens separated from whites
- half a bunch worth of broccoli, divided into small florets
- one sweet potato, in quarter-inch dice
- four slices maple-smoked bacon, cut into lardons
- half a dried cayenne chili (seeds removed if it’s a more fiery specimen)
- a couple splashes sherry vinegar
- 2 TB olive oil
Preheat your oven to 475°F.
Render the fat from the bacon in a saucepan (for which you have a lid) over medium-low heat. Whatever you do at this stage don’t commit the sin of overcooking the bacon, it will crisp a bit after it comes out of the pan and burnt flavours now will plague the dish. After the lardons have been removed from the pan and set aside soften and lightly brown the scallions whites in the bacon fat. About five minutes.
In a large-ish bowl dress the cubes of sweet potato and florets of broccoli in half the salt and all of the olive oil. Spread evenly on a half sheet pan or cookie tray.
Once the scallions have softened add the quinoa, increase the heat to medium and stir to coat the quinoa in fat and loosen brown bits from the pan. After about two minutes or when the quinoa smells toasted add the water, the other half of the salt and the crumbled half chili to the pan. Once the water comes to the boil lower the heat to low, slap the lid on, and simultaneously slide the broccoli and sweet potato laden half-sheet pan into the oven. These should both be done in about fifteen minutes–you may want to stir the broccoli and sweet potato once during that time but avoid the OCD urge to be the sort of bore who spends three minutes fastidiously turning each of the sixty-eight cubes of potato with tongs.
To serve combine the contents of the two pans (either in the quinoa pan or in a serving bowl depending on your mood) and garnish with the bacon, vinegar, and scallion greens. Mix well with a fork.