The definition of delicious

I don’t know why I haven’t tried quinoa before today. I love whole grains. I try to eat a varied diet. So many people have told me how much they like quinoa. I even bought a bag of it several months ago and then… forgot about it. I decided to try it today and I’m so glad I did.

I knew I had quinoa. I knew I had a can of black beans so I went in search of inspiration. I had to look no further than Epicurious. The recipe for Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro looked really tasty. I was ready to go for it and then I noticed that there were over fifty comments in the review section. Most people loved the recipe but each person had a suggestion on how to make it even better. I decided most of these suggestions sounded great so I went ahead and made many, many changes. One accidental change that I’ll recommend is to use Aleppo pepper for part of the chili powder. I ran out of chili powder and improvised. The Aleppo pepper flavor with the feta? Not at all southwestern but very, very great.

When I ate my first bites of this meal in a bowl, the word sumptuous came to my mind. The creaminess of the sheep’s milk feta and avocado was so wonderful against the spiciness and texture of the grains. I don’t often call vegetarian food decadent, but this was certainly over the top!

Southwestern style quinoa

Adapted from Quinoa with Black Beans & Cilantro, Sept 2008 Bon Appétit

This recipe serves 4 -6.

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed, drained*

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp Aleppo pepper (if you can’t find this, substitute a second tsp chili powder).

½ tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups vegetable stock

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained

1 15-ounce can corn, drained

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Garnish with:

Chopped cilantro (about a ¼ cup, divided)

Chopped tomato (1 large tomato, divided)

crumbled sheep’s milk feta cheese (around ¼-½ cup divided)

Avocado, cubed (1 avocado, divided)

* To rinse quinoa, pour the grain into a sieve nested in a bowl.  Run water through the grain until the bowl is full of water.  Use a spoon to mix the grains.  Lift the sieve to drain and pour water from the bowl.  The water will look viscous and a little cloudy.  Repeat this process a few more times until the water runs clear.  Quinoa is full of bitter saponins.  Rinsing well will remove the bitterness.

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and red pepper; sauté 8-10 minutes until the onions begin to brown a little. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir in quinoa, chili powder, Aleppo pepper, cumin, cayenne and salt. Add vegetable stock; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, about 14 minutes. Add beans, corn and 1/4 cup cilantro; cook uncovered until heated through and liquid is fully absorbed, about 3 minutes. Squeeze lime juice into quinoa and mix well. Transfer to bowls; Top with everything in the garnish list.

How to make cocoa powder feel decadent

They say one of the keys to sticking to a sensible eating plan is to make sure you do not deny yourself any of your favorite foods. This sounds simple enough. However, there is a catch (isn’t there always a catch?). On the surface this statement is fine if you are maintaining a healthy weight, but if you need to lose weight, having a chocolate bar can make it so that you need to push otherwise healthy food off of your daily menu to compensate for the large amount of calories you just took in. Such a strategy can cause hunger because it’s the healthy food that makes us feel full and satisfied. But “they” have a point. Have you ever had a craving, you didn’t give in to, but you ended up eating around the craving, thereby eating way too many calories and still not feeling satisfied? I have. That’s why I am always on the lookout for clever substitutions for things I might crave.

As I made my way through the blogosphere a few weeks ago, I stumbled onto some delicious sounding healthy biscotti. These whole grain gems were spiked with molasses and had gingerbread type spices. I bookmarked the recipe for later but I kept going back to look at it.

Molasses. So complex and completely underrated. We buy it and leave it sitting alone and neglected in our pantries. But why do we use it in the first place? Loaded with minerals, which is a good thing, it has a bad reputation because although it is sweet it has a strong flavor that takes over most recipes. But… what if molasses could be used as a complement to another flavor? One of the things I love about dark chocolate is the fact that like wine, it has a flavor profile that can exhibit hints of tannins, fruit, and spices. It is hard to get that sort of flavor out a baked good made with cocoa powder. But… I started to think, what would molasses do to that cocoa flavor? Could it make it richer? The answer is yes. With just a few tweaks I baked up some biscotti that are rich and satisfying, but are still healthy and low in fat and calories. One cookie is enough to satisfy and still keep me right on track; and isn’t that the key to moderation?

Mexican chocolate biscotti

Adapted from the almond molasses biscotti on Anja’s Food 4 Thought blog

1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if clumpy

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp cinnamon, ground

½ cup almonds, roughly chopped

1 egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp almond extract

½ cup honey

2 tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine pastry flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix until well blended. Add the chopped almonds.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, honey and molasses. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are combined well.
Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined sheet. Form a flat long log, about 1 inch high and 5 inches wide. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until center feels firm to touch.

Let the log cool for about 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use a serrated knife and cut 1/2 inch slices off the log. Reduce the heat of the oven to 300 degrees F. Spread out the biscotti slices on the baking sheet and bake for another 20 minutes. Let cool completely.