Cajun/Creole food is some of my favorite regional cuisine ever. I absolutely love it, though I have to be careful to avoid the pork products that are commonly included. So I’m always in the mood to cook up some N’awlins treats right around Mardi Gras time (we’ll say it’s Jeudi Gras for today). Lately I’ve also been enamored with quinoa; it’s the only grain that it a complete protein, plus there’s fiber and iron – it’s just a fabulous, fluffy, nutty-tasting little nugget.
So I was tickled to find a recipe by Emeril Lagasse in an old Cooking Light magazine (1994, believe it or not, predating the Food Network sensation he was to become) for “New Orleans Dirty Quinoa”, a la the Cajun classic dish known as dirty rice. I’ve adapted it here, lightening it up a bit and cutting some cost.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 pound turkey bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
3 cups uncooked quinoa
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion, peppers, celery, bacon and garlic until vegetables start to become tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in quinoa and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth, Cajun seasoning, and Tabasco, bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat and simmer 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.
I must say, I was a little concerned about the method here. I’ve tried making quinoa pilaf-style before, but whenever I saute it in the oil and onions and add the liquid afterwards (whether stock or water), the grain never fully opens the way it’s supposed to (it should look much fuller, with the germ clearly visible as a little ring around the outside). I finally figured that what was happening was that the oil was essentially sealing the grain shut, so that the moisture can’t penetrate it in the same way. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue here! The quinoa blossoms quite nicely, perhaps due in part to the additional moisture from the other vegetables in the Holy Trinity (a.k.a. Cajun mirepoix).
I recommend buying the quinoa in bulk wherever it’s available. Bulk quinoa does need to be rinsed before using, unlike prepackaged, but it really only takes a second and is worth it in terms of cost.
Les bon temps roulez!
— posted by Anne