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May, 2008

Toasted Quinoa Tabbouleh with Pine Nuts, Feta Cheese and Sun Dried Tomatoes

By Heidi Allison

Although we think of quinoa as a grain, it’s actually a seed that’s related to beets, spinach and chard. This “grain” is unique in that it provides more high quality protein than any other grain in the vegetable kingdom — it contains a complete amino acid profile (all the essential amino acids are in a balanced pattern) and supplies a whopping 6 grams of protein per serving!

Toasted Quinoa Tabbouleh with Pine Nuts, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Heirloom Sun Dried Tomatoes
Although we think of quinoa as a grain, it’s actually a seed that’s related to beets, spinach and chard. This “grain” is unique in that it provides more high quality protein than any other grain in the vegetable kingdom —it contains a complete amino acid profile (all the essential amino acids are in a balanced pattern) and supplies a whopping 6 grams of protein per serving! Cooked quinoa has a soft, chewy texture with a bit of a “bite” --similar to pasta that’s cooked al dente. Yet this superfood provides more nutrition than any pasta, or even couscous for that matter. Quinoa is a rich source of magnesium, which makes this grain especially important for people with diabetes, atherosclerosis and migraines. Researchers discovered this mineral acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion. Studies suggest that eating whole grains such as quinoa on a regular basis reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and promotes healthy blood sugar levels. Other studies found that increasing the intake of magnesium reduces the frequency of headaches in people who suffer from migraines.

Quinoa
This ancient grain is also good for your heart! A low level of magnesium in your diet is linked to hypertension, ischemic heart disease and heart arrhythmias. This mineral is crucial for people who suffer from high blood pressure, since it acts directly on constricted blood vessels, causing them to relax. Adding more magnesium-rich foods to your plate is an alternative method of ensuring better cardiovascular health. This recipe is a new take on the Mediterranean favorite, Tabbouleh. The quinoa’s subtle flavor is enhanced by first toasting the grain before adding it to the cooking liquid, which creates a nutty taste that’s the perfect foil for the concentrated sweetness of the heirloom sun dried tomatoes and salty feta cheese. Kalamata olives bring an earthy, salty edge to the dish, while the toasted pine nuts add a bit of sweet, nutty crunch.

This rendition leans toward the Greek, rather than Lebanese, version of this dish which uses a heavier hand in the ratio of grain to greens. It’s substantial enough for a filling side dish or all-inclusive meal. Since the quinoa is a substitute for bulgur (cracked wheat), this recipe is great for anyone on a gluten-free diet.

Toasted Quinoa Tabbouleh with Pine Nuts, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Heirloom Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves: 4 as a side dish; 2 as an entrée

¾ cup sun dried tomatoes, cut lengthwise into ¼-inch strips
1 cup pre-washed quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp. Kosher salt
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (preferably Greek)
2 Tbsp. finely minced shallot (approx. 1 large shallot)
½ cup chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
1-1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley (approx. 1 large bunch)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup, plus 1 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup feta cheese (French, Israeli or Bulgarian)

Preparation:
Place sun dried tomatoes in a small bowl and add enough water just to cover. Heat tomatoes in a microwave for about 20 seconds to soften. Drain and cool, then set aside. Toast quinoa in a 1 ½ quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon until evenly toasted - about 10 minutes. (The quinoa will take on a light brown color and release a nutty aroma.) Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed - about 15 minutes.

When the quinoa is done, the grain will look translucent and a ring will form along the outside edge. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle salt over the quinoa and toss with 2 large wooden spoons. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, and then toss again. Add the shallots, parsley, cilantro, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese and toss once more. Mound the quinoa onto a serving plate, sprinkle the reminder of pine nuts over the top, and serve.