I decided to give quinoa a try by making Quinoa, Apricot and Nut Clusters, from a recipe found on Martha Stewart's web site.
I had heard of quinoa, but had never cooked with it, nor had I ever tasted it. I am, in the quinoa department, the novice of novices. So the first thing I decided to do was check Wikipedia to find out more about it: The quinoa plant originated in the Andes region of South America, where it has been an important food source for 6,000 years. As a plant it's undemanding and altitude hardy. Today it is favored for its nutritional value. It is high in protein (12% - 18%), which makes it a healthy choice for vegetarians and athletes. It's also gluten free and easy to digest. When cooked, quinoa has a light, fluffy texture, and a mild, nutty flavor, something which makes it an alternative to rice or couscous. So quinoa can be boiled, it can be used in baking, and it can be made into flour. Quinoa kernels in their natural state bear a bitter tasting coating of a chemical compound named saponin. This compound, when shaken in water, produces a soap-like lather, thus its name saponin, which derives from the Latin word for soap. Due to its bitterness, saponin makes quinoa kernels unpalatable, therefore they must be rinsed several times before they can be used in cooking. Quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this bitter coating.
I got my ingredient list ready and went to the supermarket to make my first purchase of quinoa. I looked all over for it and finally found it in the gluten free section. What an adventure!!! LOL!
Quinoa looks a little like bird seed. It tastes like corn but with a crunchy exterior. It's also more nutritious than corn. I think quinoa can make a very nice savory side dish. I am about to find out how it fares in the dessert department Here is the recipe:
Ingredients: (makes about 20 clusters)
3/4 cup white quinoa
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shelled raw pistachios, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine sieve; drain. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa; return to a boil. Stir quinoa; cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until most liquid is absorbed and quinoa is slightly undercooked, about 12 minutes; transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, fluffing with a fork occasionally, until pale golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in a large bowl.
- Spread oats on baking sheet; bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add oats to quinoa.
- Spread sunflower seeds on baking sheet; bake until lightly toasted, about 7 minutes. Add to quinoa mixture; let cool.
- Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
- Toss pistachios, apricots, sugar, and salt with quinoa mixture.
- Beat honey, oil, and vanilla into eggs; stir into quinoa mixture.
- Line a 12-by-17-inch baking sheet with parchment; lightly coat with cooking spray. Spoon 1/4 cup batter onto sheet for each cluster; space 3 inches apart. Flatten to 1/4 inch thick.
- Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until crisp, about 25 minutes.
- Let cool on a wire rack. Store, loosely covered with foil, up to 2 days.
My dad's verdict? He said all those ingredients reminded him of bird food. Dad was trying to expend some nervous energy by joking. Tomorrow he is scheduled to undergo cataract surgery. My verdict about the cookies? Well, I love each one of the ingredients used in the recipe. Pistachios? Yum! Dried apricots? Yum! Sunflower seeds? Yum, Yum! However, when all the ingredients are melded together, they do not make what I would call an "uber" cookie. Having said that, these cookies are a great choice for people with dietary restrictions. For those who are lactose intolerant these are good because they are dairy free. For celiac disease sufferers, or for those who have other gluten allergies, these cookies would make an excellent choice, since they contain no gluten to trigger symptoms. I am glad I got to make them. In the process, I found out all about quinoa. Also, I got to step outside of my cooking comfort zone and experiment with something new!