Quinoa and I have been having a little love affair recently. Don’t worry — Dan knows. And anyway, it’s okay, because quinoa and I go way back.
In college I worked in a small, patchouli-scented health food store (as they were called then, before Whole Foods smashed them all into smithereens) in the snooty little Westchester town I’d unfortunately found myself in for four miserable years. One afternoon I was manning the register, probably with a profoundly sour expression on my face. A young woman dressed entirely in freshly-pressed Talbots attire strolled in and deigned to ask me a question.
“Do you have any keen-wah?” she said, blue eyes blinking.
In response, I’m pretty sure I heaved an enormous, leaden sigh. What the hell was this prissy asshole looking for? Keen-wah? What the *@#/^ is that?
“It’s a grain,” said the woman, as if she’d read my mind. Thanks, lady. So helpful.
I pried myself from behind the cash register and shuffled to the aisle where the dry goods were kept. Keen-wah. I scanned the boxes and bags on the shelves. Keen-wah. I didn’t see anything remotely like this weirdly-named grain.
“Sorry,” I said. “We don’t have it.”
With that, the woman left the store and I could get back to the very serious business of brooding, scowling, and occasionally misting the produce with a spray bottle.
It wasn’t until later that day, during closing, that I mentioned the incident to my boss. I asked him if we sold something called keen-wah, and he said, yes, of course. As if to counter the dubious expression on my face, he strode over to the dry goods aisle and gestured grandly at a small box on a high shelf.
Whole Grain Organic Quinoa it said.
Right. Of course. Didn’t see it there. Red-faced, I sheepishly bought a bag of the damn grain, clocked out for the evening, and rode my bike sullenly home. Stupid, stupid. Keen-wah is quinoa, not kwin-oh-ah.
And so my love affair with quinoa began. It’s an affair worth taking up, too — quinoa is packed with protein and other nutrients, has a nutty, almost sweet flavor, and is a light, fluffy alternative to rice. Quinoa is not a grain, despite my little story’s assertion, but is actually a relative of Swiss chard.
Quinoa’s light fluffiness to me means it’s a great summertime “grain,” and it cooks up quickly, which means less heat in the kitchen.
But since summer here has been nonexistent — temperatures have hovered below 70 for what seems like eons — heating up the kitchen was not a concern last night when I prepared a meal of quinoa-stuffed pattypan squash. If you can’t find pattypan, another yellow summer squash, or even a regular old zucchini, will do, but the pattypan is just so cute, and so bowl-like, it’s almost begging to be cut open and stuffed.
Quinoa-Stuffed Pattypan Squash with Summer Herbs
1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed well
pinch saffron threads
4 small pattypan squash (they should fit in your hand)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/8 c. shredded mozzarella
3 tbs. freshly grated Parmesan
3 tbs. chopped basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 tsp. fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 tsp. lemon zest
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Add the quinoa and 1 c. water to a small saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Once the quinoa reaches a boil add the saffron, then reduce it to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes. (Or follow package directions.)
Meanwhile, halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving two small squash bowls. If the empty squash bowl bottoms topple over, slice a bit off the bottom to level them. Finely chop the flesh and reserve. Once the quinoa is cooked, combine it with the chopped squash and the rest of the ingredients, and season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stuff the squash bottoms with the quinoa mixture, replace the tops, then place them in a baking dish. Add just a bit of water to the bottom baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
Serve with a fresh, garlicky tomato sauce, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or alongside pesto-smeared baguette rounds.