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Monday, September 15, 2008

How do you pronounce this?

I was browsing through the pages of a not-to-be-named sports magazine a couple of weeks ago when I came across a recipe for quinoa tabbouleh in the cooking section (which I always find somewhat out of place in such publication). Tabbouleh (pronounced [ta'bu:li], also tabouleh, tabouli) is an Arab dish, frequently served as an appetizer (or mezze). Its primary ingredients are bulgur, parsley, mint, tomatoes and scallions and it is typically seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil. Oh, I love tabbouleh sooooo much!!! And what an interesting idea to mix up the ingredients a bit. So taking inspiration from the magazine recipe I concocted a Quinoa Tabbouleh:

1 C quinoa
1/2 big bunch of parsley
1 handful of mint
1/4 red onion, chopped
3-4-5 Roma tomatoes, squeezed and chopped
1 English cucumber
1 can of garbanzo beans (oh, yes!)
lemon jiuce
splash of olive oil

Combine quinoa with 1 1/2 C water and a pinch of salt, bring to boil and simmer for ~15 minutes, until quinoa is soft, but still has a slight crunch. Cover and let it cool. I made this with the intention of bringing it to work for lunch which meant that the salad will be in the fridge for a few days so initially I mixed everything but the tomatoes and cucumber in a bowl, covered it and refrigerated it. Then every morning I would chop up some lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber and top them with ~3/4 cup of the quinoa mix. Yum! And nutritious too!

I have only recently discovered quinoa (pronounced ['ki:nua], above middle) and found it a tasty and fun ingredient to include in salads, stir-frys and in place of other grains. Quinoa is a pseudocereal and not a true grain. It originated in the Andean region of South America and has been a staple food there for 6,000 years. The Incas even considered it sacred - quinoa was second in nutritional importance, superseded by the potato and followed by corn. During the European colonization the Spaniards scorned and tried to suppress its use due to its importance in non-Christian ceremonies, obviously without success - Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador are now the world's top producers. Quinoa has been gaining popularity (among protein starved vegetarians) because of its nutritional value - it is high in protein (12-18%), it is a complete protein, it is rich in dietary fiber, iron and magnesium, and it is gluten free. It has a pleasant nutty flavor and a light crunchiness, and can be easily substituted for rice, couscous, bulgur. Plus, it looks really cute.

So far so good. However, last weekend I made a long due visit to the Farmer's Market and ended up buying a bottle of liquid gold - Lemon Infused Olive Oil (capitalized on purpose) from the Queen Creek Olive Mill. I don't frequently splurge on fancy foods but this stuff is just phenomenal - smooth olive oil with a vibrant lemon flavor. Furthermore, it comes packed with a feel-good-about-yourself feeling as the olives are grown locally and you are supporting a small family business. The acquisition of lemon infused olive oil could only mean one thing - more tabbouleh! But while I threw the previous one together in a hurry, I decided to make this one a work of art. Classical Arabic culinary art. And in my humble opinion, it was a wild success. Here are the ingredients:

1 C dry bulgur
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
a handful of mint, chopped
4 green onions, choped
4-5 Roma tomatoes, squeezed and chopped
3/4 - 1 English cucumber ('ll never guess...), chopped
2 Tbs (lemon) olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon

The key to a good tabbouleh? Dry ingredients. I put the bulgur in a bowl with a little salt and poured 2 C of boiling water over it. Then I covered it and let it cool and absorb the water. A few hours later there was still some unabsorbed water so I put the bulgur in a cheese cloth and left it to strain overnight. The next day I chopped up all the herbs and veggies and mixed it up. I prefer to use Roma tomatoes because they are not as watery. I felt that the juice of 1/2 lemon was just enough to not overpower the lemony flavor of the oil but if you want more sourness, add more juice. I recommend adding the zest too - adds lemony flavor without sourness. This turned out oh, so, good! The fresh vegetables, the herbs and the spices gave it such a rich flavor and I love the different textures - the chewy bulgur, the crunchy cucumber and the leafy parsley. I am already looking forward to lunch (shown here) tomorrow, after the flavors have had the chance to blend overnight!

PS. After-lunch review: fantastically minty-fresh! But beware of parsley between your teeth ;)

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