A question of quinoa

I hope we have gotten past quinoa’s trendy phase and can settle down and fully accept it for how great it really is—stellar nutritional virtues and all.  Judging from most market shelves, quinoa has definitely secured a presence and has moved from novelty to staple status.

We know quinoa is incredibly versatile; its slight nuttiness blends well with just about anything. I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a batch and incorporating it in meals during the week.  It works in a salad, maybe a grain bowl, part of a dinner, and even for breakfast.

Another personal motive is to hold back enough for my precious Quinoa Bars, an old favorite. I’m always glad to have them in the fridge. There will be times in the course of a week that I’ll be in a wild rush, and know I can reach in and grab one without missing a  beat.

Quinoa Fruit Bars

The moisture from the pre-cooked quinoa seems to keep these bars moist but not soggy—they hold very well without drying out after a few days, and the slight nuttiness blends well with the oat flakes and dried fruits. This last time, I went for a combo of dates and dried cranberries then topped them with bits of sliced candied oranges stashed away from a Trader Joe’s offering.


There’s still a lot of discussion about rinsing quinoa to remove a natural bitter coating from the seeds. I buy mine in bulk and have no idea whether this has been done. I usually forget to rinse, but as or yet have not noticed any pervasive off taste.

So here is the latest “new and improved” version of Quinoa Fruit Bars. They are even easier to make and enjoy!

Quinoa Fruit Bars  


  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, or half whole wheat or other flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp each allspice and dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick oats flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup agave or honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa
  • 3/4 cup dried fruit: chopped dates, dried cranberries, raisins, apricots or candied ginger

Garnish: 1 Tbsp Demerara or other coarse sugar or candied fruit garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8”x8″ pan with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick oil.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Mix in the oats. Add the dried fruit.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, then stir in yogurt, agave, vanilla, and cooked quinoa.
  4. With spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet just to incorporate.  Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top begins to brown.  Cool on rack and slice. Yield: 16-18 bars

New Millennium Snacking: Date Bars

This moist and tasty bar is a life saver when faced with dashing out the door without breakfast, and it’s solid enough to hold up well for snacking later in the day.  Much of the sweetness comes from dates plus a good hit of candied ginger, which in tandem with warm spices gives off a subtle kick of heat.Date Bars(480x640)

The quinoa works quite well here, not only for its health benefits, but also because it is light and does not become mushy as is the case with many grains.  While at it, I like to make a full batch of quinoa and use it for other purposes, instead of just the small batch required here; a recipe follows. Oats are also included, but neither butter nor oil is used.

Date Bars with Quinoa and Candied Ginger


1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour, buckwheat, or other flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each allspice, and coriander
1/4 teaspoon dried ginger or cloves
Pinch salt
1 cup quick rolled oats
1/2 cup dates, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup candied ginger root, minced
1 banana
1 large egg
1/4 cup yogurt
1/3 cup agave or honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cooked white quinoa (see below)

1 Tbsp. Demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line and spray 8×8″ pan.
  2. In medium bowl combine flour through oat flakes.
  3. In a large bowl, smash the banana with a fork, mix in the egg, then stir in the yogurt, agave, extract and the quinoa.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet along with the dried fruit, and stir to combine.  Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top.  Bake approximately 35 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top begins to brown.
  5. Let cool 10 minutes on rack, remove from pan, cool thoroughly, then slice.  Yield: 18 bars

To cook the quinoa, use the 1:2 ration of quinoa to water.  Rinse 1 cup quinoa well and place it in a small saucepan with 2 cups water.  Bring it to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  It is done when the seeds swell and sprouts tails. Drain any excess water and cool.  Yields 3 cups.

Tamales Made Easy, with the Pope

Who doesn’t love tamales?  I have fond holiday memories of hilarious Latino family gatherings where the purported purpose was to assemble a huge quantity of tamales.  When many hands are involved, it moves it from dull, repetitive work to a gregarious social occasion.  Of course, there’s the added benefit of a boatload of tamales for sampling and perhaps a stash for later home indulgence.

I’m a little put off by making tamales at home for a couple of reasons:  1) locating a supply of corn husks or other large leaves for the wrappers requires advance planning, and  2) the health consequences of the hefty amount of lard in the masa dough is problematic.

All of that changed when I considered Rebecca Wood’s recipe for Bolivian tamales in her inventive cookbook The Splendid Grain. Instead of using heavy fat laden corn masa, humitas begin with a brightly flavored combination of quinoa and red potatoes lightly bound with butter, garlic and chile powder.  This is not a bland dough that relies on a highly seasoned meat filling.  The simple filling is a fascinating blend of sauteed zucchini and onion, with black olives and toasted walnuts. Tamales 2 No question, humitas are an international taste event with plenty of zest and texture.

Once committed, I divided the work into a series of tasks easily accomplished over a couple of days.  Ahead of time I gathered corn husks from the Latino section of my local bulk market and while there I picked up more quinoa and a small supply of fresh walnuts.  At my neighborhood market I headed to the olive bar, happily sampled away, and selected my pitted olives. A day ahead I cooked the quinoa, toasted the nuts, found my steamer insert, and reviewed the art of tamale making.

husksIt is an art, if you don’t make tamales regularly.  Rebecca suggests soaking the dried husks overnight in cold water or in hot water for 1 hour.  I found that my husks softened nicely in hot water within 30 minutes. Ahead, I also ripped up plenty of long narrow husk strips for wrapping ties.

I put media coverage of the Pope’s visit on the TV and went to town.   Both the quinoa dough and the zucchini filling assembled easily, which left plenty of time to develop a tamale assembly process.

While crowds cheered, choirs sang, and the Pope kissed babies I made tamales. I spread a vertical rectangle of dough onto the flat husk from one side edge across to leave a 1″ border  on the other edge, and allowed a 2-3” border top and bottom. (I had scissors on hand to cut away excess husk.)  I spread a heaping spoonful of the filling in the center of the dough. To wrap it up, I carefully folded one side over the filling to the opposite side, overlapping the 1” border.  The top and bottom edges fold over one another, and the strip wraps around and ties in front to hold it all in place.  In my recollection, this was far easier than any of my previous tamales encounters. Go figure. I ended up with 16 or so 2×3” blessed tamales.

It seems most tamales steam for hours.  In this case, there is no masa cooking or heavy meat filling to contend with; everything is pre-cooked.  Miraculously, humitas need only steam to combine the flavors, about 45 minutes. Tamales While that happened, I cleaned up and had time to make a companion bean dish as well as fresh salsa. To my surprise, salsa was all that was really needed to complement the tamale.  The rest is just frills.

Bolivian Tamales

From Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain, humitas are a Bolivian specialty similar to tamales, but lighter.

1    pkg  dried corn husks (6-8 oz.)
Quinoa Dough
1    cup quinoa, cooked
3    medium  red potatoes, peel, quarter
6    Tbsps  butter, divided
1    clove  garlic, minced
2    Tbsps  chile powder, or to taste, divided
sea salt and ground pepper
1    sm  onion, diced
2    sm  zucchini, chopped
1/4  cup  walnuts, toasted
1/2  cup black olives, pitted, chopped


  1. To prepare quinoa, rinse 1 cup quinoa, place in small pot with 3 cups salted water and bring to a boil. Cover with lid and simmer for 20 minutes, until tiny tails sprout on the quinoa.  Remove from heat and let stand briefly to absorb moisture.  Drain any excess liquid if necessary.
  2. Soak the husks in hot water 30-60 minutes. Drain and remove any remaining corn silk.
  3. For dough:  simmer the potatoes for 20 minutes, or until tender.  Drain well.  Stir in 5 tbsp. of butter, the garlic, 1 tbsp chile powder, salt and pepper. Mash until creamy.  Add the quinoa and stir to combine. Set aside.
  4. For filling: Heat the remaining butter in medium sauté pan, add the chile powder and cook 1 minute, until aromatic.  Add the onion and zucchini, sauté 5 minutes, until soft.  Add the walnuts and black olives and set aside.
  5. To assemble: Take a large husk or overlap 2 smaller ones.  Place about 2 tbsp of quinoa mixture on the husk and shape into a rectangle leaving at least 1 inch on one side and 2-3 inches at the top and bottom ends of the husk.  Bring the quinoa mixture close to the edge of the husk on the fourth side. Place the zucchini filling in the middle of the quinoa mixture.  Fold 1 side of the husk over the quinoa and filling to the opposite side, overlapping the 1 inch border.  Fold in the ends of the husk and turn the tamale over to hold the husks in place.  Tie with long narrow strips of corn husk.
  6. Steam for 30-45 minutes in a covered pot.  Serve hot or room temperature.  To reheat, steam for 5-7 minutes over boiling water. Makes 16-18 tamales.

Quinoa Quandary

There’s a quinoa storm blowing out there in the world and I have been too consumed by other grains to pay much attention.  As far as quinoa is concerned, I’ve pretty much regarded it as a hairy bitter little seed—with political consequences (but that’s another post).  So why bother?

Workers in Quinoa fields courtesy quinoa.net

It’s pretty difficult to completely ignore the quinoa frenzy, especially with the vast number of folks looking for a reprieve from food allergies and sensitivities such as gluten intolerance.  The media has jumped all over this even referring to it as one of the healthiest foods of all time and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization even proclaimed 2013 International Quinoa Year.

I’m not a quinoa convert, but I am impressed with its adaptability and nutritional value.  Since it is a complete protein, vegans and vegetarians are on board, and it also wins over many on workout regimens with its whooping 24 grams protein in one cup or 48% of daily food intake. Quinoa has no cholesterol, it is low on the glycemic index and high in dietary fiber—which aids in weight loss and reduces arterial plaque build up (that nasty contributor to heart disease and strokes).  It’s high in magnesium, B-12, iron and potassium–a very good thing for women.

Many say that the bitterness from the saponin in its outer coating is no longer an issue, thanks to new varieties on the shelf of most markets.  I still rinse it, because I haven’t found that to always be the case.

quinoaSince it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook, it easily competes with white rice and beats out many grains.  There are endless varieties of the tiny seed, but three are most popular, a red, black, and a white.  The white cooks fluffier and the red and black are nuttier and tend to stick together less.

Cooking Quinoa

Standard directions suggest cooking quinoa similar to rice, 1 to 2 ratio–simmering for 15 to 20 minutes or until curly threads appear.  I’ve found that less water works better:  cooking 1 cup quinoa in 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups water for 20 minutes leaves it less soggy.  I have also brought an ample pot of salted water to a boil, added the quinoa and let it simmer for 12 minutes; then removed it from the heat, let it stand covered for 10 minutes and drained it. No muss, no fuss.

I’m always working on nourishing snacks that hold up well and can get me to the next meal without resorting to ineffective fillers with nothing to offer except sugar, salt, or fat.  Quinoa provides a surprisingly versatile base for a bar that is not too heavy or dense.  It holds together without being sticky or gooey and its flavor is light enough to allow  fruit to shine through.

quinoa snack bar 3 IMG_0242Quinoa Snack Bars

Tasty almond butter does the work of the usual butter or oil in this not too sweet, nouishing snack.  Quinoa and chia seeds keep it moist along with one high powered egg, banana, and a handful of dried fruit.   


  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, light chop
  • 1 cup regular rolled oats (or quick)
  • 1 banana, smashed
  • 1/3 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
  • ¼ cup honey (or agave syrup)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, drained if necessary, and cooled
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds, soaked in ¼ cup water 15 minutes
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line and spray 8×8” pan.
  2.  In food processor bowl, place the flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and sesame seeds and pulse to combine.  Add the cranberries, apricots and oats and pulse briefly to chop up the fruit and oats but not pulverize; the fruit should be identifiable.
  3.  In a medium bowl, mash the banana; add the almond butter, honey, vanilla, quinoa, chia seeds, vanilla and beat in the egg.  Add the dry ingredients to the quinoa mixture and stir to combine well.
  4. Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth evenly into all corners and crevices.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is slightly browned.
  5.  Let cool 10 minutes on wire rack; remove from pan and cool thoroughly before slicing.  Yield: 18 pieces.  

A Lovely Bunch of Chard

Got chard and wondering what to do with it tonight?Swiss chard

That was the case with the remnants of our last CSA box: a lovely bunch of Swiss chard―screaming for attention.

Here is a tasty chard and quinoa combination that is not only packed with extraordinary health benefits, it also delivers plenty of personality and eye appeal.  The light basil sauce hits all the right notes and makes the perfect complement to this hearty dish.  Whipped together while the torta bakes, the creamy accompaniment elevates this beauty to more than just another mid-week meal solution.

Chard Torta, forkIMG_0157Don’t let the list of ingredients and instructions discourage you, because the torta is easily assembled and popped in the oven in under an hour.  The sauce and any clean-up can be finished while it bakes.

Allow the torta to rest a few minutes and it will slice smoothly into tall elegant servings.  If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, they are even better the next day.

Chard & Quinoa Torta with Basil Sauce



  • ¾ cup quínoa
  • 1 ¼ cup water
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 bunch or 8 cups chard leaves, trimmed of stems, cleaned, drained and chopped
  • dash salt and pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, and divided
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • pinch of salt


  • 1 ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup chicken stock or bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • dash salt and white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. pesto
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1-2 Tbsp. minced green onion


For the Quinoa:  If not pre-packaged, rinse the quinoa, drain it, and toast it briefly in a dry cooking pan over medium heat to remove its natural coating which can cause bitterness.   Add water, salt and bay leaf to the pot and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.  Set aside, covered, while preparing torta ingredients.

For the Torta

  1. Coat a large quiche dish or other 2 qt. oven ware with 1 tsp. butter or olive oil.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until soft, stir in the garlic and the rosemary, and cook 1 minute.  4. Add the chard leaves, salt and pepper, and toss to combine; cover and cook 5 to 8 minutes to wilt and soften leaves and any residual liquid is absorbed.  Place the chard and quinoa in a mixing bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the eggs, 1/3 cup Parmesan, the milk and salt.  Pour this over the chard mixture and combine well.
  4. Pour the torta mixture evenly into prepared dish and bake for about 40 minutes.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan and bake additional 10-15 minutes, until top begins to brown. Remove and allow to rest a few minutes before cutting.  Serves 4 or more.

For the Sauce

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in the flour; whisk and cook or 2 minutes; add the garlic and stir for a minute to incorporate well.
  2. Whisk in the chicken stock; stir until it is thick and smooth.  Slowly add the milk; whisk until the sauce is thick and smooth; stir in the nutmeg, salt and white pepper, Tabasco,  and the Parmesan cheese.  Just before serving, add the pesto and the onion and stir until well blended and smooth.  Adjust seasoning and serve hot.