Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

We’ve moved far beyond the dreary Chef’s salad and the similar uninspired tosstogethers our parents had to choke down. Gone are the days of limp iceberg lettuce, tepid tomatoes and mangy celery passing as the salad course. Out are the supermarket-brand salad dressings and cardboard croutons. Any flavouring or foodstuff is fair game to be salad-ified, and no one knows this better than us lovable vegheads.

One of my favourite “grains” (though it’s technically not a grain, but let’s not get taxonomical) is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It’s wonderful stuff: not only is a high in protein, but is also what’s called a complete protein, meaning it includes all nine essential amino acids. It’s also brimming with fibre, energy, magnesium and iron. The health benefits of quinoa are almost too good to be true; a quick search in a medical health index spat out several scholarly studies indicating that it has been linked to help reduce one’s risk of, or actively combat everything from migraines and asthma to type-two diabetes and ischemic heart disease. In fact, if you bathe in quinoa, you will become Immortal. I'm kidding. In all seriousness, it really is what everyone calls a superfood.

It’s often served as one does a starchy side dish, like rice, for example, but it’s also great for stuffed vegetables and excellent for hot casseroles – heck, I even had a quinoa pie once. It has a nutty flavour to it that easily absorbs the flavours of the dish in which it is featured.

Salad days are here again, however, so I tend to switch gears with my quinoa and incorporate it into salads. Couscous is so nineties, you know, and macaroni went out with the Pet Rock. No offense.

It’s quite simple to prepare – very similar to how one prepares rice. A two-to-one ratio of water to quinoa, with a dribble of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and maybe half a cube of vegetable stock. Bring to a rolling boil with the lid firmly in place, then immediately turn the heat way down to minimum. Simmer (again, with the lid on) for approximately 10 minutes until all but a little water has been absorbed. Then, turn off the fire completely and let it sit, topped with its lid, for five more minutes to cook on its own sans le feu. Burned quinoa generates quite the lingering stench and is murder to scrape out of a pot, so keep an eye on things. I, as you might imagine, learned this the hard way.

A couple of hints with quinoa: first, most cookbooks will suggest you give it a rinse. I say go one better and give it a really good rinse. I put it in a wire strainer and get my fingers in there to aid in the process. Quinoa has a coating of saponin (an entirely non-toxic coating of the grain, formulated as a built-in defense against critters), which tastes a bit weird. You will notice it will cloud the water a bit when it rinses away, much like the starch of rice or pasta.

As I mentioned earlier, quinoa works great with just about anything, but I find its nutty flavour matches superbly with tabbouleh, one of my favourite Middle Eastern salads. Traditionally, bulgur (another grain) is used with this dish, but I much prefer quinoa as it adds an extra kick of protein.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

1-cup quinoa, uncooked (prepare as above)

¼ cup olive oil

½ tsp salt (sea salt is best, but table salt is just fine)

¼ cup lemon juice

I tbsp white wine (optional)

3-4 tomatoes, seeded and diced

½ cucumber, diced

1 cup chopped parsley (I prefer the curly variety for this dish)

2 tbsp red onion, very finely minced

1. Prepare the quinoa as directed and then place in the fridge to cool for approximately one-half hour.

2. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, lemon juice, white wine and the vegetables.

3. Add the cooled quinoa, and top with a few enthusiastic cranks of your pepper grinder, or sumak (a middle eastern spice).

Enjoy!

Next on Gone Vegan: Vegan cheese, and famed vegan author and dietitian Vesanto Melina gives tips on vegan baby care and nutrition.



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