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Get your Quinoa and Beans with a Side of Flavour
The internet tells us that quinoa has been around as a basic food staple in parts of South America for three or four thousand years, but has only recently become popular in other parts of the world. And there are plenty of good reasons for its rise in popularity: nutritionally, quinoa is a bit of a rockstar. It is about 14% protein by mass, and that protein is arguably of the "complete" variety, with all of the essential amino acids that vegetarian bodies crave. It also has significant percentages of the recommended daily allowances of folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.
This recipe combines quinoa with classic Tex-Mex flavours. Technically, it's a side-dish, and you can definitely serve it as a small part of a larger meal, but I find it fills a plate well by itself and always leaves me satisfied. Part of the reason for that satisfaction is the high protein content for sure, but the emotional comfort of the combination of beans, onions, corn, cumin and cilantro is definitely part of the draw. This is also one of those rare dishes that does equally well in the winter and summer. It "sticks to your ribs" when there's snow on the ground, but it is light enough that it doesn't weigh you down in the summer heat. It truly is one of my favourites and I hope it becomes one of yours as well.
Another plus for me is that it's dead easy to make and almost impossible to screw up. (Trust me, I've tried.) The toughest part is finding a brand of quinoa that agrees with your palette. As it grows, quinoa seeds develop an outer shell containing bitter-tasting saponins, probably as a natural pest deterrent. This shell is usually removed before it makes its way to the grocery store shelves, but if you find the quinoa has a bitter aftertaste, saponins would be the culprit. I've never had a bad experience with prepackaged organic quinoa, but I did have a bitter meal once from quinoa that I bought at a bulk store. The internet is full of advice and counter-advice about rinsing and soaking to remove saponins before cooking, but my feeling on that is that if you can find a quinoa brand that you enjoy, you won't have to worry about bitterness.
The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of cooked black beans. Of course, black beans are readily available in can form, but my personal opinion is that you will enjoy the dish far more if you start with dry black beans. The difference in taste and texture is huge—I find homemade beans more flavourful and less mushy. To make 2 1/2 cups of cooked beans, start with 1 cup of dry beans. Soak them in a large bowl of water for 8 hours, drain, then simmer them for about 3 hours in a pot of fresh water (give or take—taste them at 3 hours and see if they've reached the desired softness). I use a small slowcooker for this job. The total time is about 11 hours, but only 2 minutes of that time involves any kind of work.
I think that's everything you need to know! The cilantro, as always, is an optional garnish. I love it, but many people find that it gives anything it touches a dishsoap flavour that ruins the entire meal. A study comparing the reactions of identical twins and fraternal twins seems to suggest that there is a real genetic component to cilantro hating, which means that if you're making this dish for a crowd, you may want to serve the cilantro on the side. If not, let the cilantro flow liberally in the last steps of cooking!
4 Tbl olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced with a little salt
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
2 1/4 cups uncooked quinoa
4 cups vegetable broth (I use Knorr)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp hot cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 cups frozen corn
2 1/2 cups black beans (canned or cooked at home from 1 cup dry, see above)
chopped cilantro to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, but not long enough for the garlic to brown.
Add the onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the quinoa and mix well.
Add the stock, then mix in the cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let cook until all of the stock is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
Stir in the frozen corn and let cook 5 minutes uncovered.
Mix in the black beans and cilantro. Turn off heat and let rest covered 5 minutes to warm up the beans.
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Posted: Monday, October 20, 2014