What's On the Side: Quinoa Pilaf

Quinoa is one of my favorite things to serve on the side. It has a delightfully nutty flavor and lends itself well as a complement to a variety of main dishes such as chicken, pork, or beef. (It also serves as an ideal base layer for a mélange of roasted or sauteed veggies.) Technically, quinoa is a seed and not a grain. It originates in the Andean region of South America, where it was revered as a sacred crop by the Incas. Health-wise, quinoa is an excellent choice as it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. In addition, a one- cup serving of quinoa contains 9 grams of protein, which is more protein than is found in an egg.

Though I most often make quinoa by just simmering it in water until it absorbs all the liquid, I came across a new recipe to try in a recent issue of Cook's Country magazine. I thought the recipe's flavor profile would make it the perfect companion to a lemon-herb chicken dish I was preparing for dinner -- and I was right. Feel free to sub in whatever fresh herbs you have on hand for the parsley that I used -- I think chives or tarragon would be delicious options.

Quinoa Pilaf (printer-friendly version)
makes 4-6 servings

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and dried (check the packaging, some brands pre-wash the quinoa)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 3/4 cups filtered water
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Toast the quinoa in an empty medium sauce pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and a popping noise is continuously heard, about 5-7 minutes. Place the toasted quinoa in a bowl and set aside.
2. Melt the butter in the medium sauce pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and salt and saute until the onions are softened and golden, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Increase the heat to medium-high, then stir in the the water and quinoa. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, 20-25 minutes. Stir once halfway through the cooking period.
4. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Before serving, fluff quinoa with a fork and stir in the chopped parsley and lemon juice.

(adapted from a recipe in the January 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine)