Toasted Quinoa Pilaf

Greetings and welcome back!

I am *so* excited to share this recipe. It is one of my all-time favorites. I always make extra because the leftovers are wonderful! It is equally delicious hot or cold and can easily converted into a cool summer salad. It features quinoa, a relatively unknown grain that is a complete protein! Cool factoid: The grain was so prized by the Inca’s, they held the crop to be sacred and called it “the mother of all grains.” What does it taste like? It has a mild flavor that is slightly nutty and blends in with whatever it is cooked with. It’s delicious! Oh, and did I mention high in fiber? Fast cooking? Very easily cultivated?

So now you must be thinking that if quinoa is so fabulous, what’s the catch? Quinoa is naturally coated with a bitter substance (saponins) which makes it unattractive to birds and bugs….and humans! The coating is easily removed by simply rinsing the quinoa under running water. I toss mine into a fine mesh colander and rinse, rinse, rinse. At the start you may notice some foaming when rinsing (saponins are a soap-like substance). This is normal. And in case you’re worried, I have never, ever had a dish ruined by bitter quinoa. Now you’re ready to rock this oriental-inspired recipe!

If you leave out the poultry, this makes a great vegetarian main course or it can be served as a side dish.It can be served over salad greens or tucked into a roll-up and made into a lunch sandwich. Chicken can be substituted with firm tofu- in which case, throw the tofu into the soy mixture before cooking to kick-up the flavor of the tofu.
Makes 4 to 6 servings (unless you are feeding teenage boys, in which case you better double the amounts! Ha!)

Quinoa Pilaf- Hot or cold, it’s delish!

Toasted Quinoa Pilaf/Salad
1/4 c. sliced almonds, gently toasted
1 1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained well
2 T. orange juice concentrate or 1/4 c. fresh squeezed
2 c. chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 T. low sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 T. rice vinegar
1 t. sugar
1 T. toasted sesame oil (dark)
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1 T. fresh ginger, finely minced
1 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 c. fresh veggies:go for your favorite mix or try pea pods, asparagus, summer squash, onions, broccoli, fresh greens beans, shitake mushrooms, red bell peppers
2 T. olive oil
1 pound skinless chicken breasts or thighs, all visible fat removed and diced into bite-sized pieces (Firm tofu can be substituted. Just be sure to marinate the tofu in the soy mixture to give it some kick.)

Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Watch carefully as they go from “just right” to “scorched” very quickly. Once they are toasted, remove from pan and set aside.

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, grated ginger, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl. Set aside for later.

In a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great in this instance), toast the quinoa over medium heat, stirring until fragrant and golden. Watch carefully so the quinoa doesn’t burn. Move to a heavy-bottomed sauce pot and add the orange juice and broth. Bring to a boil, put on a lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Make sure the heat is LOW or you can easily burn your quinoa.

In the large skillet, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil till shimmering and toss in the chicken pieces. Saute till just barely done and browned on all sides.Remove from pan. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil and saute the veggies and the minced ginger till crisp-tender. Add the chicken back into the pan.

Add the cooked quinoa and the say sauce mixture to the pan with the chicken and veggies. Gently fold the ingredients together. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook over a low flame to blend flavors and absorb more of the liquid. Optional: If you really like the flavor of toasted sesame oil, you may want to add a bit more at the end to intensify the flavor.

Serve with toasted almond slices sprinkled on top.

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