Saturday, January 02, 2010

Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

When I first began experimenting with new ingredients in the kitchen, my mother wasn't always the most supportive. More often than not, she'd insist that I haul a fan up from the basement to chase out the smells of whatever I was cooking. Now perhaps I was truly making some horrific aromas. Or perhaps she was just unhappy that I was infringing on her turf. Whatever the cause, it got to be a bit much. I remember the final straw came when I was cooking quinoa, which I had hunted out from the local health food store. I insisted that a fan was overkill, and told her that it didn't smell at all -- c'mon, it's a grain!

It turns out I was somewhat wrong on both counts. Quinoa isn't technically a grain -- the South American crop is actually a pseudocereal, with a balance of amino acids that make it great for protein-hungry vegetarians. And, sadly, it did kinda smell. Quinoa naturally comes coated with a bitter, soapy-tasting insect repellent. Back when quinoa first hit the shelves of American health food stores, it was sold in its natural unwashed state. You'd have to swish the teensy grains in a strainer, but even then it was hard to get them entirely clean. Luckily, quinoa producers have gotten much better at pre-washing their product. Commercial quinoa has only the slightest grassy edge, which is quite pleasant in most dishes.

I happened upon this particular combination when I had leftover quinoa after a hippie dinner we had made. It turned out so well that I came up with a recipe to make it from scratch. The quinoa and kale can cook together, making this a one-pot easy dish for a quick weeknight supper. I've tried variations with both feta and goat cheese, and my tasters were split on which they preferred. Try it with whatever you like.

UPDATE: This recipe will be featured in the upcoming Food52 cookbook! You can see it (with much, much nicer pictures) on their website.

Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

serves 2-4

1 cup quinoa
1 bunch lacinato kale, washed and chopped into 1" lengths
1 meyer or regular lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil or olive oil
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese
salt and pepper

Bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil in a pot. Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it is just enough to maintain a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then top with the kale and re-cover. Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 more minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, take a large serving bowl and combine half of the lemon juice (reserving the other half), all of the lemon zest, scallions, walnut or olive oil, pine nuts, and cheese.

Check the quinoa and kale when the cooking time has completed -- the water should have absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender but firm, and the kale tender and bright green. If the quinoa still has a hard white center, you can steam a bit longer (adding more water if needed). When the quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf, and tip it into the waiting bowl with the remaining ingredients. As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon it should smell lovely. Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper, and the remaining lemon juice if needed.


  1. I've only been cooking with quinoa for 3 or 4 years, and only recently have started rinsing it in a strainer...I always kind of wondered if I didn't detect bitterness as well as some other people, since it never seemed to bother me- now I know that it's due to the manufacturers! Thanks!

  2. According to a story floating around the internet, scientists created a variety of quinoa that lacked the saponin coating, but the entire crop was eaten by birds!

  3. There is usually a reason for things, right?!

  4. I absolutely LOVE this recipe! I've made it twice this week, just to satisfy myself that it's really this good--taste, nutrition, and ease of preparation. If you don't mind, I would like to put it on my blog with all credit and links to you. Thank you for such a great recipe.
    Now I want to try your matzoh ball soup as well!

  5. Annelle - so glad to hear you made and loved this! By all means, repost and share the love -- kale can always use some new friends.

  6. Thank you, Deena, I hope we'll stay in touch!

  7. I LOVE THIS RECIPE!!! It is very yummy and my kids love it! I would recommend it to any parents who are looking for a heathly and fun salad this is the one!!!