Sunday, January 10, 2010

Craving Healthy Food in the New Year

Hey, welcome back! How were your holidays? Did you get some time off of work? Did you see your family? Happy New Year! Well, all the best for 2010.

This week was my first week back in classes after the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice/New Year/Just Some Time Off at the End of December break, so I repeated the little spiel above many times today as I greeted my culinary school acquaintances. In some ways, it’s a little sad to be back to the usual routine already. I had a wonderful break: I went home to Montreal from Seattle for nearly three weeks. I am fortunate enough to have a large circle of family and close friends up there who are all loving, fantastic people and who I care about very much, so it was good to see them all. The flip side of that is that it’s now sad to be away from them again, but I know that I’ll get back into the groove again here soon and it will feel like no time before I see them again.

Now, despite all that warm, mushy, lovey-dovey stuff, there is one part of my Christmas holidays that I don’t mind leaving behind, and that is all the rich, indulgent, decadent foods that I consumed throughout those three weeks. You know what I’m talking about: hors d’oeuvres made with buttery pastry and creamy fillings, meals covered in thick sauces with loads of bread and not a salad in sight, and endless supplies of Christmas cookies. There’s all the snacking, all the parties, all the eating out, all the events, and everything just seems to revolve around food, food, food! All right, so I loved every minute of it. Yes, any holiday revolving around food is my kind of holiday, but I think I’m finally ready for a break, though not from food altogether, of course. I’m ready for a break from all the indulgences of the holiday season. I’m ready for some more sensible eating, and hey, while I’m at it, why not a little exercise too? Check me into the spa, please, and don’t let me leave until February.

I am actually craving healthy food the way I normally crave butter, so how about that? I’m craving good, simple, no-frills healthy meals that will leave me feeling satisfied, but not full, or like I just gained five pounds in the last half hour. Now, I realize that healthy food can be very complicated, frilly, and just as elegant as any other food, but that’s not what I am wanting right now. I’ve had enough of frilly and elegant for a little while; I am craving simplicity. Something like Wednesday night’s creation, a concoction I’m calling Southwestern-Style Quinoa.
First of all: quinoa. Have you heard of it? Had it? It’s a fantastic little grain: not only is it a whole grain, but it is also a complete protein, so it is perfect for vegetarian cooking. Also, unlike brown rice, barley, and other whole grains, it isn’t too heavy. It’s small and light. I find it comparable to couscous in terms of taste and texture.

So like I said, I kept this dish pretty simple, using inexpensive ingredients I had around the house: onion, garlic, black beans, corn, canned diced tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, and other seasonings. I’ve typed up the proper recipe below, but this is the general idea: I used dried beans which add considerably to the planning and preparation stages, so you can use canned if you’d like. I find that using dried beans yields the best flavor and texture, though. I soaked the beans for about twelve hours, then cooked them for a little over an hour (until just tender) in water seasoned with a bay leaf, a couple cloves of garlic, and half an onion:
The quinoa cooks in less than fifteen minutes, using the same principals as rice: two parts water to one part quinoa, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender. You’ll know the quinoa is done by how it looks: it changes from a small grain into a larger one with a small spiral uncoiled from it. Like this:
While that’s cooking, you can work on the rest of your ingredients. Sauté half a diced onion over medium heat in one tablespoon of vegetable oil until it just becomes translucent. Then, add a half cup of frozen corn and a clove of minced garlic. Cook that for a couple of minutes to let the corn thaw and soften.
Then you can pretty much throw the rest in together: the drained beans, the quinoa, along with a cup of diced canned tomatoes, a couple tablespoons lime juice, a few drops of hot sauce, and then some cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
Cook it for a minute or two longer over medium-low heat to let it heat through. When you take it off the heat, stir in a quarter cup of chopped cilantro, and then taste it again and adjust the seasoning. Serve it up and garnish with a sprig of cilantro and a slice of lime.
There you have it: a comfortably simple, tasty, and healthy meal you can enjoy this week. Here’s the recipe:

Southwestern-Style Quinoa
Serves 2
½ cup dried black beans
1 onion, halved, divided
3 cloves garlic, divided
1 bay leaf
½ cup quinoa
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
½ lime, juiced
2 drops hot sauce
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped cilantro

Soak the beans overnight in 2 cups cold water. Place beans and their liquid in a medium pot with half the onion, halved, two cloves garlic, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about an hour, until the beans are just tender. Remove the onion, garlic, and bay leaf and drain the beans.

Place the quinoa in a small pot and cover with one cup cold water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook for about twelve minutes, or until quinoa is done.

Meanwhile, dice the remaining onion half and mince the remaining garlic clove. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, then add onion and cook until becoming translucent. Add the garlic and corn and continue to cook until corn softens slightly. Add the next eight ingredients along with the drained beans and the quinoa. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook and stir until ingredients are blended and heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve hot.


  1. I didn't quinoa 'bout this grain! Sounds delish, and especially interested in its being a complete protein. Thanks, Jess!
    It was great to have you back home, and great to have you back on BYA!

  2. I'm going to make this! It sounds good.

  3. Thanks for commenting at my led me to your wonderful blog! This looks tasty!! I love quinoa...just discovered it last year. Funny that I'm getting ready to post on a quinoa recipe in the next week or so.

  4. Thanks, Denise! Quinoa really is a miracle food, isn't it?