Quinoa and Fresh Vegetable Ragout

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Got quinoa? Trying not to waste food? This recipe is adaptable to whatever vegetables you have on hand! If you soak the quinoa overnight and prep the vegetables while your tomato sauce is simmering, this simple, nutritious, and incredibly satisfying dish can be made in fairly short order. 

Although it is often mistaken for a grain, quinoa is a seed and a complete protein. Prior to commercialization, quinoa was grown in the back gardens of Peruvian families where it was common for different strains of the seed to pop up in different colours, and no one thought much of it. Enter marketers … now we can purchase different colours of quinoa (red, black and white). All are comparable nutritionally, all can be used interchangeably in recipes and all take roughly the same amount of time to cook. (Red quinoa takes slightly longer).  In this recipe I used neutral quinoa just for colour.

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As an evolutionary defence to protect itself from birds, quinoa grows with a bitter tasting natural coating of saponin. If you have ever eaten quinoa and thought the taste was bitter, the saponin coating was likely to blame. Saponin is removed by soaking or rinsing quinoa in water before cooking. While most commercially sold quinoa is pre-washed and some varieties have less saponin than others, it’s still a good idea to soak or rinse quinoa until the water runs clear before cooking. Just as with all seeds, nuts and grains, soaking is known to aid digestion.

Some time ago, when I was working as a pastry chef, one of my colleagues, a girl from Peru,  whipped up a staff meal at the end of our shift that just blew me away with it’s simplicity, flavour, and fresh taste. It was so fragrant with fresh herbs! Of course I had to have the recipe and of course my colleague didn’t have one! She simply gathered a few choice vegetables and simmered them in a pan with pre-soaked quinoa and fresh tomato sauce. Quinoa is a staple food in Peru. It is eaten hot and cold and served in a variety of different ways for breakfast, lunch or dinner. As a young girl, my colleague said that she and her siblings ate quinoa several times a week prepared all kinds of ways. 

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My colleague always soaks quinoa before cooking, sometimes for a few days!  She confided that in her very busy life she doesn’t always get around to cooking it when she intends to and on occasion has even left it to soak for 2 or 3 days! Good to know! But you don’t need to soak quinoa that long. If you are really pinched for time, a good rinse under cold water until the water runs clear will help to remove the bitter taste too. Rub the seeds vigorously together between your fingers to scrape the outer coating – this helps to release the saponin. No need to be gentle with the seeds. 

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Below is my best effort to recreate the meal my Peruvian colleague made that night. You’ll need to make the tomato sauce first. I used the vegetables I had on hand, but you’re not limited to those – you can use whatever vegetables you want.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa, reserve about 1/2 cup of the water after the final rinse in case you need to adjust the consistency of the sauce
  • 4 cups assorted vegetables; (I used zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, red onion, yellow pepper, carrots
  • 1/2 red chilli, seeded, finely chopped
  • Generous pinch of cumin
  • Handful fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce (recipe follows – make this first)

Soak quinoa several hours or overnight, rinsing and changing the water a few times. Rub the quinoa vigorously between your hands to scuff the surface of the seeds, which helps to release the bitter coating.

Prepare the tomato sauce before continuing with the rest of the recipe. 

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Basil 

  • 4 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped or coarsely minced
  • Handful fresh basil

Sauté onion in a little water or vegetable stock until soft and translucent.  Add minced garlic. Stir a minute or two and add tomatoes. Allow sauce to simmer slowly for an hour or two, or until tomatoes are fully broken down. You can puree the sauce if you prefer, but it isn’t necessary. Stir in fresh basil. Set aside.

Incidentally, this excellent tomato sauce is adaptable for any dish you’d like to serve with a fresh tomato sauce. 

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While the tomato sauce is simmering, coarsely chop your vegetables. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2-3 tablespoons of water or vegetable stock. I used a paella pan for this but any large frying pan will do. The liquid should sizzle when it hits the hot pan.

Starting with the vegetables that take longest to cook, lightly sauté adding additional vegetables after a few minutes and light caramelization. In this case, I started with carrots and red onion, then added the cauliflower, broccoli, peppers and zucchini, in that order. Top up with liquid as you go to prevent scorching. Don’t worry if the vegetables are not cooked through. You just want to sear the vegetables a little at this point. 

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Add the tomato sauce, chilli, and cilantro to the pan, followed by the rinsed and drained quinoa. It may not look like enough liquid but it probaby is. You’ll know towards the end of cooking time whether or not you need to add any of the reserved soaking liquid.

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Stir everything together in the pan to blend the ingredients.

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Cover the pan, reduce the heat and allow the ragout to simmer for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and the vegetables are cooked through. 

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