Thursday, February 17, 2011


'mid pleasures and palaces
Though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble,

There's no place like home.

I got that from Pa Ingalls when I was a little girl, and man, I've always loved it. No matter how much I enjoy myself while I'm traveling, I'll never not count coming home as one of my favorite parts of the romp. The breweries and Michelin-rated dinners and this market were wonderful, and I plan to tell you all about them some rainy day soon. But right now, I am blistered and jetlagged and grateful for the creature comforts of home: warm baths, my own bed, my dogs, my kitchen.

I really missed those things, tiny as they all are (my bed, actually, is not tiny - but with a six and a half foot man in it, and two dogs as well, my portion of it is quite tiny, I assure you). The grandeur of vacation is delicious, but the humbles of home are sweet as well.

And speaking of humble, I think I promised you quinoa.

Have you met quinoa before? If you haven't, hop to it. Inexpensive and insanely nutritious, this Andean seed (not technically a grain, as it is not a grass) has gotten a lot of press-time recently for - well, for those two very reasons, I imagine. Quinoa is Trendy! But also humble: at about $2 per pound for sustainably raised, fair-trade, organic quinoa, it's hard to beat as a substitute for pricier and less-nutritive rice or couscous - especially once you realize how far a pound goes, as this stuff practically quadruples in volume during cooking.

I mention quinoa along with rice and couscous because it's often used in similar fashions - as a bed for a star protein or vegetable, or in a pilaf-type salad. It gets along swimmingly with some black beans, as Scott would happily report if his mouth weren't full. It's gluten-free, so it's often incorporated into baked goods and crackers and pastas once dried and ground. And it is also, like its rice and other cereal pals, equally tasty in sweet as savory preparations.

The recipe that I'm offering for your new friend, Quinoa, is one that incorporates this slightly more glamorous of plantae, the pomegranate. Did you read that NPR article like I told you? Good! What did you think? I enjoyed reading Peggy's piece because I realized how much my own lifestyle reflects her choices. When it comes to local and seasonal produce, I am passionate but not [usually] preachy. I am conscientious, but I am not a convert. Everyone breaks their own rules sometimes, and I think Peggy's slips are well-thought. Like her, I make the year-round admission of lemons into my kitchen, and I shame up a bit further with bananas (not many, but I make sure I always have some in the freezer for baking; if the lemons are her Achilles' heel, banana bread may be mine). Aside from those, though, I commit to local produce from my farmers' market throughout all of Pittsburgh's growing season. But unlike my lucky locavore friends who live in Florida, we in PA have a seven- to eight-month growing season, start to finish. The winters here are bleak, man; bleak.

It's a common misconception about locavorism that proponents of the movement believe in 100% local, 100% of the time. There are the die-hards, of course, but most of us attend a more lenient school. I fully support trade of foodstuffs, as long as it is done in a manner that recognizes the responsibilities to both the grower and the planet. I don't need the cherries that are shipped from Chile, because I'll get them from right here come June - but I don't know that I see anything wrong with smartly-grown avocados from California while they're in season. Sure, I eat local food in part because it just tastes better (those red things in supermarkets are, I am sorry, NOT tomatoes), but that seasonal CA avocado tastes a lot better than my seasonal PA... nothings. A girl's gotta eat.

Maybe you agree with Peggy and I, and maybe you don't. Before we get preachy, here (or disagreeably screechy, even), let's get back to that pomegranate.

Pomegranates are not native to Pennsylvania - not even close. But they are grown in California, and shipped around the country during the relatively short pom season (October-Februaryish?), and they are delicious. Not to be eaten whole, pomegranates are cracked open and the arils (those beady looking pockets of juice surrounding tiny, nutritious seeds) can be used in myriad ways. Opening a pomegranate and harvesting the arils can be tricky - if you're unfamiliar, or just still having trouble, you can find a million and one solutions online. Everyone seems to have thier own trick. My favorite is probably the most common - crack the pomegranate under water, in a big bowl; as you release the arils, they will sink to the bottom, while the tasteless and plasticky white membranes will float for easy disposal. When you're buying fresh pomegranates, you want one that feels heavy for its size.

Chamomile Quinoa with Pomegranate

This recipe is original, and combines the quinoa and pomegranate with little else. The nutty chew of the quinoa compliments the seeds of the pomegranate really well - your jaw will love this dish. Serve it for breakfast, warm, or keep some cold in the fridge for snacking any time.

Something about this dish seems a little lonely, in a lovely way, so this recipe serves just one. It'll make two or three helpings, easy, but don't misunderstand; it's just for you.

1 fair-trade Chamomile tea bag
1/2 cup of quinoa - there are several varieties available; my preference is red
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup local honey
1 cup fresh pomegranate arils
yogurt, for serving - PA residents, their maple yogurt is the best ever with this

This is a pretty easy one, as recipes go. Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Now, keep it there for 25-35 minutes until the liquid is mostly gone, the whole thing has gone wonderfully fragrant, and the germ has begun to separate from the seeds (you will see lots of little white curlicues in with the red quinoa). Remove the chamomile tea bag, cover, and turn off the heat. Allow the quinoa to stand for 5-10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the mess can be fluffed with fork, like perfect rice. If the liquid HASN'T been completely absorbed, it's fine; it'll be delicious anyway.

Toss with the pomegranate arils, and eat with yogurt if you like. Enjoy the layers of texture: the burst of juice, the crunch of the pomegranate seed, the nutty chew of the quinoa. Oh, and a note about the amount of water: this is more than is typically used for quinoa preparation. While you'll see a number of different prep methods, the 1:2, seed:water ratio is quite common. I use more here so that the quinoa can cook just a bit longer - it swells with that honey-chamomile tea in a great way.

1 comment:

  1. making this tonight, jess. thanks for the dinner idea! xo, megk