Red Quinoa Pilaf With Sweet Cherries, Dried Apricots and Walnuts

Red Quinoa Pilaf With Sweet Cherries, Dried Apricots and Walnuts-
Quinoa (keen-wa) has the highest protein content of all the grains (although technically it is not a true cereal or grain since it is not a member of the grass family). An important food for 6,000 years in South America’s Andes Mountains (called the “mother grain” by the ancient Incas), of late it has been touted for its extraordinary nutritional value. Its very high protein content and balanced set of essential amino acids make it a complete protein source and a valuable part of a vegetarian’s diet. Considered easy to digest, quinoa is gluten-fee and a great source of dietary fiber and phosphorous, magnesium and iron. With its nutty flavor and light texture, it cooks up into a tasty pilaf. With delectable sweet cherries now appearing in farmers markets in the Northeast in late spring, I like to cook up quinoa and blend in cherries, dried apricots, and chopped walnuts to create a delicious savory dish that goes well with sautéed spinach, which is also appearing in late spring in farmers markets near my home in Albany, NY.

The Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, www.hwfc.com, sells both organic red quinoa ($3.29 per pound) and organic white quinoa ($3.75 per pound). I regularly stock up on organic dried Turkish apricots at $4.99 per pound at the coop, which are a relative bargain compared to the organic California dried apricots at $10.29 per pound. With recent reports confirming that eating nuts every day helps lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, every cupboard should be stocked with a variety [ www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/health/research/18nutr.html?scp=1&sq=Study Finds Eating Nuts Helps Cholesterol&st=cse]. The current pricing of organic nuts at the coop might seem pricey (organic pecans, $15.79 per pound; organic almonds, $7.99 per pound; organic walnuts, $8.89 per pound), but a handful of nuts adds excellent nutritional value and flavor. For this red quinoa pilaf, the walnuts add nice texture and additional flavor.

1 cup of red quinoa
12 sweet cherries (pitted and cut up into pieces)
Handful of organic dried Turkish apricots (cut up into pieces)
Handful of organic walnuts (cut up into pieces)
Two tablespoons of olive oil

Place one cup of red quinoa in a bowl and cover with cold water and soak for 3-4 hours. (Quinoa in its natural state has a coating of bitter tasting saponins, which made it a successful crop for the ancient Incas since there was no risk of birds consuming the quinoa due to its bitterness! However, for human consumption, it is necessary to remove this natural coating of saponins.) After soaking for a few hours, rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve with cold running water. Bring to a boil two cups of fresh cold water and two tablespoons of organic olive oil in a medium sized pot, with a tight fitting lid. Add the rinsed quinoa to the pot, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the water is absorbed, approximately 12 minutes. Add the cherries, dried apricots and walnut to the pot and stir lightly to distribute. Turn off the heat, and cover and let stand for a few minutes while sautéing up the spinach in some olive oil. Serve the spinach with a generous helping of the red quinoa pilaf with sweet cherries and dried apricots. [FB 6/14/10]

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