It took me a while to give my heart to quinoa. Yes, quinoa is a superfood, full of protein, iron, fiber and an abundance of other attractive phytonutrients. And sure, it has a great back story; it was a staple food among the ancient inhabitants of the Andes, who cultivated the nutritious plant even at an elevation of 12,000 feet. Plus, it’s gluten-free, comes in several pretty colors and is not really so hard to pronounce (KEEN-wah, but you knew that).
And did I mention that it’s tasty? It’s gently nutty, pleasingly earthy, with a crunchy texture that still manages to be light.
But even with all these admirable traits, it wasn’t until I learned that quinoa was also kosher for Passover that I embraced it. It was given the rabbinical nod because, contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not a grain. Botanically, it’s related to beets and spinach. Which means it will find a spot on my table during the holiday.
In the kitchen, quinoa cooks up quickly and very easily. Some people simmer it like rice in a small amount of water. I prefer the pasta method of boiling it vigorously in plenty of salted water, then draining. Both techniques will yield a similar result, but the pasta method allows you to avoid measuring. Either way, never overcook quinoa or you will get sodden mush. And don’t try mixing the colors (white, red and black) in one pot; they all have slightly different cooking times.
You can treat quinoa like a grain, serving it as a side dish, adding it to soups, simmering it into a pilaf or tossing it into a salad. In this recipe, I go the salad route, making enough to feed a crowd (you can halve the recipe if you’re not). Along with the quinoa I add chewy currants and soft roasted carrots seasoned with a hefty drizzle of sweet-tart pomegranate molasses. If you can’t find pomegranate molasses, which is available in large supermarkets and Middle Eastern specialty shops, a good quality balsamic vinegar will also work. Try spiking the vinegar with a little bit of honey if you like things on the sweeter side.
You can dress the quinoa several hours, or even a day, before serving. But don’t add the arugula until the last minute. You want it as fresh and sprightly as possible, a worthy partner for that fluffy quinoa.
Quinoa Salad With Roasted Carrots and Frizzled Leeks
1 leek, trimmed
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying leeks and for serving
Kosher salt and black pepper
2½ tablespoons lemon juice
2½ tablespoons pome- granate molasses, more for serving
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch-thick coins
2 cups quinoa (13 ounces)
1/3 cup dried currants
6 ounces fresh arugula
Cut leek in half lengthwise and rinse away any grit. Slice thinly. In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 1/4 inch olive oil. Add a handful of leeks and fry until golden brown, 15 to 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with remaining leeks.
In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, molasses, 1 teaspoon salt and a large pinch of pepper. Whisk in 3/4 cup oil.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots with 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Spread on 1 or 2 large baking sheets so they fit in one layer. Roast carrots, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
While carrots roast, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add quinoa and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss warm quinoa with currants. Add carrots and half the dressing and toss well. Taste and add dressing or salt (or both) if needed.
In a separate bowl, toss arugula with enough dressing to lightly coat. (Leftover dressing will last for 5 days stored in the refrigerator.) Spread arugula on a serving platter. Top with quinoa and frizzled leeks. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and a little olive oil before serving.
Makes 10 servings.