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Quinoa Surprise (totally tasty!) with Cilantro Pesto

Source: The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

The actual title of this dish is "Mexican Quinoa with Pepitas and Cilantro" - but I renamed it because of its surprising good taste. Make this dish and you will become an instant hero to your guests. By the way, "quinoa" (pronounced keen-wah) is not really a grain, it is more closely related to spinach and chard. It is high in protein, calcium, iron, and B vitamins. Use quinoa as a substitute for rice, it has much better nutrition. You do need to rinse quinoa prior to cooking, it has a soap-like coating on it to deter animals from feeding on it. You can get Red or White quinoa, I like to mix them for a more colorful presentation (and the Red type has a slightly better nutrition profile).

  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed)

  • 1 1/2 cups water

  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (Pepitas), or sesame seeds.

  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 jalapeno chili

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp cumin, ground

  • 2 TBL olive oil

  • 1 tsp lime juice

  • 1 small red pepper, diced

  • 2 scallions, chopped

  1. Cook the rinsed quinoa in 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, put a tight fitting lid on the pot, reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Take the pot off the heat, keep the cover on, and let "steam" for 5 more minutes. The 'grains' will open into a nice spiral shape. Set aside.

  2. Toast the raw pumpkin (or sesame) seeds, in a dry pan on high heat, shaking the pan continuously until they start popping. Put the toasted seeds into a food processor or blender. Add the cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, salt, and cumin then blend it. When everything is minced, slowly add the olive oil to form a paste (scrape the sides often), then slowly add the lime juice. Blend until smooth, it should be pourable (add water as needed).

  3. Combine the quinoa with the cilantro paste, still well to distribute evenly. Then stir-in the bell pepper and scallions. Serve warm or cold. This can be a main dish or used as a filling for 'wraps'.

  4. To spice it up a bit, make a salsa for those who want more heat.