I'm far from a health-food nut, but I do like trying some of the grains that have become more widely available recently, such as buckwheat, millet, and bulgur wheat. I have no issues with gluten (thank God), so I'm not looking for alternatives to regular wheat products, but I'm all for more choices where food is concerned.
One of the more popular, or at least more visible, of these alternative grains is quinoa. I've used it, and I like it for its granular texture and mild nutty flavor.
But as for actually cooking with quinoa, all I've really done up till now is use it as a rice substitute. (And given recent reports of high arsenic levels in rice, that's not a bad thing.) That's fine, as far as it goes, but it only goes so far.
So I looked forward to my review copy of 500 Best Quinoa Recipes, from Robert Rose Books. Five hundred quinoa recipes? And those are just the "best"?
As this book shows, though, quinoa can be used as far more than a simple grain to include in side dishes. And the sheer breadth of the book makes it as comprehensive a guide to cooking with quinoa as you can find.
Author Camilla V. Saulsbury starts things off with a primer on quinoa - its history, why it packs such a nutritional punch, some basics on preparing it, and what to stock in your kitchen to cook with it - and moves on to the recipes, which make up over 90 percent of the book.
The recipes are arranged thematically, with chapters on breakfasts, appetizers and snacks, soups, stews and chilis, salads and sides, vegetarian main dishes, seafood, poultry and lean meat dishes, breads, and desserts. The recipes are simply and clearly presented, and accompanied by useful preparation and cooking tips. Two sections of color photographs help whet your appetite to try many of the recipes.
You may wonder why you'd want to incorporate quinoa into so many dishes - come on, quinoa desserts? Keep in mind, though, that quinoa doesn't always figure into the recipes in its basic, granular form. Many of the recipes call for quinoa flour, for example as an ingredient in pie or tart crust. For folks like me, who don't have any problem with wheat products, these may not be a big draw. But for anybody who's looking to cut carbs, or to avoid gluten, the inclusion of these recipes makes this book a valuable resource.
Even if you're not consciously trying to avoid wheat, there are plenty of intriguing recipes here to tempt you, like Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup, Black Bean Quinoa Chipotle Chili, and Spicy Kale Quinoa with Pan-Fried Salami. You'll also find more familiar dishes, with a quinoa twist, such as quinoa-stuffed peppers and a simple quinoa pilaf. Many of these are dishes that I would order, if they appeared on a restaurant menu, and Saulsbury shows how easy they are for the home cook as well.
Naturally, I looked right away for a pizza recipe, and landed on the book's recipe for pizza dough made from quinoa flour (which is available at local supermarkets under the Bob's Red Mill brand). Because of quinoa's lack of gluten, this will not yield a puffy, bready crust, but the use of baking powder will give you a crisp yet airy crust marked by the faintly sweet, nutty flavor of quinoa. (And to skeptics - before you dismiss the idea of quinoa pizza dough, be aware that customers of Velvet Elvis Pizza in Patagonia, Arizona are shelling out $45 for the pizzeria's "Inca Quinoa Pizza.")
If you're stuck in your culinary ways, then you won't be much interested in this book. But if you're like me, you're always interested in expanding your kitchen horizons, and 500 Best Quinoa Recipes is a good place to start. I've now got a quinoa-dedicated container on my kitchen shelf.
500 Best Quinoa Recipes, by Camilla V. Saulsbury
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose (2012)