Monday, June 7, 2010


I think most people grew up with a fairly confined diet. Not confined in a boring sense, but more like normal or indicative of your family or region. What you eat seems ordinary . . . until you realize not everyone eats like that. As a child, I found it both alarming and exhilarating. Through the years, it's become an enlightening process for me, and one that I really enjoy. I've definitely become acquainted and even extremely fond of food that otherwise would've been absent in my life. And that would flat out be a crying shame.

Bagels for instance.

I can still recall vividly the first bite of a bagel I ever had. I was living in Panama (probably in 3rd grade) and had spent the night at the Healy's. While I was accustomed to biscuits at breakfast, they served up bagels. My mom was fairly fanatical about manners so I knew I could only say, "Thank you" upon being handed this odd doughnut-shaped roll. But I've always been a bread lover so immediately took a bite. And oh what a glorious moment that was as I savored the soft yet slightly chewy doughy goodness. My friend Suzanna poked me and said encouragingly, "It's even better if you put cream cheese and grape jelly on it!" I was thinking, "What? First you hand me this novel baked good and now you're throwing in cream cheese for goodness sakes?! What the heck is cream cheese?!" In short my parents were stunned when I came home and told them I wanted to start eating bagels with cream cheese for breakfast. This was coming from a girl who didn't want anything besides butter touching any bread — ever.

I was an admittedly picky eater as a child, but my parents always made us try at least one bite of everything. And I'm glad they did because I've definitely broadened my confined diet over the years as a result of their attitude. Although I absolutely adore many of my familiar foods (i.e. fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried oysters, fried . . . .), I equally love all the wonderful things I've now adopted into my standard fare. Balsamic vinegar, hummus, chorizo, edamame, couscous and quinoa, to name just a few.

Uh, quinoa? What the hell is that? That was pretty much my first response upon formal introduction. Well, that and wondering how on Earth do you pronounce it. It's one of those words like "toile," which rhymes with "y'all" and obviously completely rejects the whole phonetic spelling concept. I saw the word referenced in a vegetarian cooking magazine (which of course was not picked up until I moved to California) and assumed it was pronounced "quinn-owah." The locals here had a heyday with that one. It turns out it's pronounced "keen-whah." I was like, "Whatever, you hippies. My fried chicken can kick your tofu's ass any day."

My ego has recovered now, and I must say I heart quinoa. It's super versatile, quick cooking, fail-proof and extremely healthy. I love it so much, I even buy huge bags of it at Costco. But most of all, I love it because it tastes and feels like you're carb loading when you're really protein packing. Quinoa is actually a protein-rich seed (once considered sacred by the Incas) and cousin to leafy greens like swiss chard and spinach.

So what can you do with it? Basically use it anyway you'd use rice or couscous. It lends itself well to being "doctored up." You can make a southwestern rift (with black beans, corn and cilantro), a Mediterranean version (with sun-dried tomatoes, chick peas, and broccoli) an Asian spin (with mushrooms, bok choy, ginger) . . . I think you get my drift. My new favorite recipe follows. It's the perfect picnic dish! And got many rave reviews from several quinoa virgins yesterday. Try it in the name of diet expansion. You'll like it. You'll wonder how you could've managed without quinoa for so long.

I'm still working on vegamite though.

P.S. I forgot to take photos so this is courtesy of Marina, our picnic host.

Greek-Style Quinoa with Grilled Shrimp
adapted from Fitness magazine

1 lb shrimp, shelled and cleaned
6 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup Kalamata olives, halved or quartered
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
4 oz feta, crumbled
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

Place shrimp, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 tsp salt and pepper in a bowl.
Bring 2 cups water to a bowl in a 2 qt pot and add quinoa. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and cook quinoa, covered, for 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining clove garlic, shallots and bell pepper. Saute until soft, approximately 5 - 7 minutes. Remove and place in a large bowl.
Add tomatoes, cut side up, in the same skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 2 minutes or until starting to char. Add them to the large bowl, along with chopped olives, feta, mint and parsley. Mix in quinoa.
Heat a grill pan on high heat and then add shrimp (without marinade). Cook 2 minutes on one side or until shrimp is starting to get opaque and then flip. Cook additional minute and remove from heat. Add to the quinoa mix. You may want to cut shrimp in half before adding.
Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil and lemon juice. Can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. Keeps in the refrigerator for several days. Yields: 6 servings.

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