Recently I made another trip to Oliverde, just off of Pearl Street in Boulder to replenish my nearly exhausted supply of Espresso Balsamic Vinegar and to get another kind of olive oil. I strolled in, tasted a few olive oils, selected one, and then moved on to the vinegars. It was a gorgeous day, and I was in a springy mood, so I tasted a few fruity vinegars, and then decided, what the heck – I’ll try the Coconut White Balsamic one which I hastily bypassed last time. And, just like on my last trip when I tried the Espresso Balsamic Vinegar, the minute the coconut vinegar hit my tongue, I knew I was getting it. And once again, I had no idea whatsoever as to what I would use it in, but it really didn’t matter. I was buying it.

My husband agreed with how spectacular the Coconut White Balsamic tasted when I got home, and we discussed what I could do with it. I decided to do something with black beans and corn (which for me always means bell pepper and some type of onion), and I thought this would really work well with Quinoa. That was simple, but deciding how to use the vinegar was a little trickier. Then I thought about how great the dressing was on the Butternut Squash and Black Rice with Almonds and Pomegranate Seeds I made using a recipe from Sunset magazine, and figured that I could use the same ratios of acid, sweetener, and oil. Instead of lemon juice and maple syrup I used the coconut vinegar and agave. And I used half sesame oil and half olive oil.

Quinoa, Corn, Black Beans, Bell Pepper, and Green Onions

Quinoa, Corn, Black Beans, Bell Pepper, and Green Onions

We both enjoyed the result quite a bit. It was subtly coconutty, and very tasty. You could top it with shredded coconut if you wanted to kick up the coconut taste a bit. Some searches online turned up several hits for coconut vinegar, but if you wanted to, you could probably work up something with coconut extract and white balsamic vinegar, or maybe even coconut milk if you want to experiment a bit.

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

serves 4-6

1 cup quinoa (ideally red and/or black)
1 + 1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts chopped
1 can of black beans
1 cup of sweet corn
1 Tbsp coconut white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp sesame oil

For the dressing, combine the vinegar and honey, and then whisk in 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of sesame oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Rinse the quinoa well, then add to a saucepan with the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, or until the stock is absorbed. Set aside.

Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, then sauté the pepper for about 3 minutes. Add the corn, and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. Add the green onion and sauté for an additional 30 seconds. Turn the heat off, add the quinoa, and stir well. Drizzle the dressing on top, and mix to coat everything well.

Serve warm or cold.

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

(Essence of) Coconut Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn

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Now that I’m experimenting a bit more culinarily, branching out from the types of dishes I normally make, I also have a few more disappointments than I used to. Over the past two weeks I’ve tried a couple things which I had very high hopes for, but which were just…not fantastic. (And these meals inevitably seem to be the most complex, time consuming ones to prepare).

One particularly extravagant main dish (for my cooking practices, at any rate) was to be stuffed orange kabocha squash with curried red quinoa and oven-roasted eggplant. I had several of the long, thin type of eggplants, including one that was yellow. Well, that was the first item requiring a slight alteration of plans. I did a little research on what my yellow eggplant could be, and didn’t really turn up anything to corroborate that there was such a thing as a yellow eggplant in that shape. And it sounded like it was quite possible that this one could be bad. So I cut it open, and decided that it didn’t really have what I would consider a trustworthy eggplant smell. So I opted to go with one less eggplant. I sliced and salted the remaining eggplant to take out any bitterness, which I’ve never taken the time to do before, and then slow roasted it. And after all that, it just kind of turned mushy and oily by the time it was cooked, so I ended up ditching that part.

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Ingredients

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Ingredients (bad yellow eggplant, bad!)

Meanwhile, I took pains to cut lids out of the two little squash, scrape out the seeds and pulp, coat the insides with butter, a little mild curry powder and garam masala, and I roasted those as well. Unfortunately, these turned out to be some of the least tasty squash we’ve had (a little bitter in fact), and although they definitely seemed done when I took them out of the oven, it was still difficult to scrape out the flesh while eating them.

To prepare the quinoa, I cooked it in broth with a bit of cinnamon and garam masala, and then once it was done, added more garam masala, plus cloves and cinnamon. It actually didn’t taste that bad, but I probably could have held back on the cloves a bit, and with the disappointing squash, the whole thing just didn’t really come together. It sure looked pretty, though.

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Ingredients

Curried Quinoa Stuffed Squash

This next meal didn’t involve a long, drawn out preparation, but it did involve a tad bit of an investment. I had some Pappardelle’s Supreme Orzo left over, which has orzos in three flavors: fire-roasted red pepper, porcini mushroom, and saffron. Some red pepper chicken sausage I also had left over would go well with the red pepper orzos, and I thought some sort of a sauce with mushrooms would be perfect. I’ve been fantasizing about using chanterelles for something, especially after seeing such gorgeous ones at Pike Place Market when we were in Seattle. But given the fact that they’re $49.99 a pound at the Whole Foods in Boulder (and imported from France to boot), there’s no way I’m willing to put that much money into something that I’m pretty sure I can’t do justice to at this point. (My mushroom cooking skills have improved, but they’re definitely not up to the $49.99 a pound level yet). Fresh morels were similarly priced, but they did have a small package of dried morels at Whole Foods, so I splurged on that for $13, and used a third of the package.

Orzo Supreme with Sausage and Morels

Orzo Supreme with Sausage and Morel Ingredients

I simmered the morels for 20 minutes in water as the package directed, and the resulting broth (‘the flavor is in the broth’, they promised) was, well – nasty smelling. I like earthy, mushroomy tastes, but this was horrendously earthy. Bad earthy. I still used about 6 tablespoons of it anyhow, making a sauce along with some garlic, onion, and pepper sauteed in olive oil. It was diluted enough in that form that it wasn’t as overly pungent as the broth smelled. Then I cut up the reconstituted morels, which pretty much had NO FLAVOR. When they said the flavor was in the broth, they weren’t kidding. It was ALL in the broth. At this point, I started to suspect that all the wonderful flavor I remember from the morels we gathered outside of town when I was a kid was mostly from the butter they were fried in.

The finished dish didn’t taste bad or anything, it was just rather boring. Anything made with $13 mushrooms shouldn’t taste boring. Granted, I only used $4.33 worth, but really. Like the previous dish, despite the taste disappointment, it was rather attractive looking.

Supreme Orzo with Sausage and Morels

Supreme Orzo with Red Pepper Chicken Sausage and Morels

But, overall, I’m willing to accept some unsuccessful dishes in the search for new and interesting ones. Plus, sometimes the bad ones are almost more fun to write about, because you get to use creative hyperbole and words like horrendous.

B’Stella-inspired black quinoa with turkey? What in the world does that mean, you ask? Well, as I was planning what to make for the week, I wanted to use the gorgeous black quinoa that I still had, and wanted to add a bit more protein to whatever I made with it. So I thought of ground turkey, and then went on the path of something with a bit of spicy heat, cumin, lime juice…but then I realized that I’ve made a few Southwesternish dishes lately, and I wanted to do something different. But I did like the idea of the quinoa and turkey, and the spicy part. And then in a train of thought that I really don’t recall, and can’t possibly be logical, somehow B’Stella came to mind. B’Stella (also called Bistella or Pastilla) is a dish with ground chicken in phyllo dough, topped with powdered sugar. But that’s a poor description of it. It’s so much more than that. I’ve actually only eaten Moroccan food (at least at a genuine Moroccan restaurant) somewhere between five to ten times, but have always loved it. (And, one of those times actually was in Morocco. We took a wonderful excursion into Morocco-Morocco (as I called it) from a port in Spanish Morocco during a Windstar Cruise. The highlights for me were the tour of the market and the lunch in a local restaurant).

Anyhow, back to the B’Stella. I knew it would take quite a while to make the Heirloom Beans and Red Rice I made earlier in the week, so I had no intention of going the whole phyllo-dough route, but to just use the spices and sweetness of B’Stella as a theme for my dish. (And there’s the fact that quinoa doesn’t have a place in real B’Stella anyway). I pulled up a few B’Stella recipes to check the spices, and set off to make something up. I really had no idea how this was going to work (or even whether it would work), but I plowed ahead.

I did a lot of tinkering with the spices and flavor while I was working on it, and went on a bit of a too-salty-add-vinegar-too-vinegary-add-sweet-and-spice sidetrack, but in the end it tasted quite good. I topped it with a bit of sifted powdered sugar by taking a spoon and pouring it through a fine strainer onto the top of the quinoa.

Ingredients

Black Quinoa with Turkey and Moroccan Spices
serves 4

1/2 lb ground turkey breast
1 c black quinoa
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
3 tsp peanut oil, divided
1 Tbsp honey or agave
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 to 1 oz almonds, chopped
2 pinches of saffron, divided
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp black caraway
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
powdered sugar for garnish

A note on the saffron: you want to grind the saffron threads up before you add them to anything – if you have a mortar and pestle use that, otherwise just use the back of a spoon.

Rinse the quinoa well, combine with the broth, water, and one pinch of saffron in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender – about 20-30 minutes. Check it after 20 minutes and if it is not yet tender, but the water is gone, add a bit more water.

Put the other pinch of saffron in 2 tsp of peanut oil, and set aside to let the saffron dissolve. Mix all of the spices together, except the salt and sugar (grind them from fresh spices if possible).

Heat the other 1 tsp of peanut oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the ground turkey, and cook until there is no pink left and the meat has started to brown. Break the meat up with a spatula or wooden spoon as it cooks. Set aside.

Heat the 2 tsp of olive oil with the saffron in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the spices to the oil, and let the spices heat up for about a minute until fragrant. Add the garlic, and saute for a minute or two. Add the onions and peppers, and saute until the onion is translucent. Turn the heat down to medium low or low, sprinkle the onions and peppers with the salt and sugar, and let them continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes until they are caramelized. Scrape the bottom of the skillet every few minutes (or more frequently if needed), adding small amounts of water as necessary to prevent sticking and burning. Once the onions and peppers are caramelized, add the balsamic vinegar, and continue to cook for another minute. Add the turkey, quinoa, and honey, and mix well. Plate, and then top with a spoonful of powdered sugar passed through a sifter or fine strainer, and then the almonds.

The plated end product wasn’t being very photogenic, so here’s everything but the powdered sugar before I stored it for dinner the next night.

B'Stella-Inspired Black Quinoa and Turkey

I love quinoa. My first exposure to it was at Turley’s, where it’s offered as a choice to complement their Scrambled Tofu. Most people consider quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’ in English) a grain, but it’s actually the seeds of the quinoa plant. Native to the Andes region of South America, it’s very high in protein for a non-meat food. And it’s got a nice, slightly nutty flavor. I buy quinoa that has been pre-rinsed to remove the saponins (apparently a soapy compound that you want to remove to avoid digestive issues). But you still want to rinse it a couple of times, even if it has been pre-rinsed.

Most of the quinoa that I’ve seen is of the white variety, but somewhat recently I discovered red quinoa, and found that the flavor is a bit stronger than the white quinoa, so that became my new favorite. Then as I was shopping at Whole Foods this past week, I came upon a bag of black quinoa. Well, given my strange obsession with the color of foods, I HAD to try it! The bag suggested mixing it with red and white for a multi-color dish, so I did half black and half red. It was so pretty in the colander that I paused, mesmerized, to stare at it for a while before continuing.

Black and Red Quinoa oooohhh...pretty

I decided to use a variation of the dressing on the southwestern potato salad I make using a great recipe from Cooking Light. It’s got a great smoky/lime juicy flavor. For the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, I use La Costeña, which they have at most of the grocery stores around Boulder. You just take a couple of the peppers out of the can and mince them with the adobo sauce still on them.

The quinoa seemed like it would be a great vehicle for a couple of ears of Munson Farms’ awesome sweet corn. I added a bell pepper and a couple of spring onions as well.

Black and Red Quinoa, Sweet Corn, Bell Pepper, and Spring Onions

Southwestern Quinoa
serves 4-6 as a side

1/2 cup black quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 cup red quinoa, well rinsed
2 ears sweet corn
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
3 tsp olive oil, divided (smoked if you have it)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup water
liquid smoke
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 Tbsp lime juice
salt
pepper

Grill or boil the corn, and then cut the kernels off of the cobs once they are cooled.  Put the vegetable broth and water into a pot and bring to a boil.  Add the quinoa, bring back to a boil, then turn heat down to low.  Simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed.  (Check it at about 10 minutes to see if you need to add more water.) After 15 minutes, check to make sure it’s tender, and then remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a skillet.  Saute the peppers and onions until the peppers start to get tender (some crsipness is ok). Set aside.

In a small bowl or mug, combine the chipotle peppers, lime juice, remaining 2 tsp of olive oil and several shakes of Liquid Smoke. Stir well with a fork, and add salt and pepper to taste.

When the quinoa is done, add all of the other ingredients, and stir well to combine.  Feel free to double the amount of ‘dressing’ that you use if you want a stronger taste. You can eat the quinoa warm, but it is also great refrigerated and eaten cold.

Southwestern Quinoa

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