pomegranate molasses. and loki.

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It’s Monday. The last day of February and, officially, the end of Australian summertime. Rather hard to believe, as the weather remains warm and I’m still in light clothing past midnight (it’s 01:04am). As I type, a slight breeze wafts through the open door, the air redolent of wet grass and burnt shrubbery. Both were presumably soaked this evening by domestic sprinklers, a timer set to summer restrictions. I can imagine the leaves unfurling after hours in the blazing sun.

This is my favourite time of day. The inky black, the quiet. The street is almost still and other than Loki’s gentle breaths, our living room is too. I’m tired but relaxed, my fingers wrapped comfortably around a glass of iced water. I type, thoughts align: if only life was always this simple.

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In my last post, I mentioned that I made some pomegranate molasses from some fruit that was languishing in my refrigerator crisper. It’s absolutely beautiful, sticky and piquant, so much better than anything from the store.

The original plan was to use the molasses in this sort of salad with some crumbled blue cheese, mum’s leftover apples, lentils and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts. Instead, I ate the apples (yep, told you I would) then went Ottolenghi-esque with various glazed roasted vegetables (carrots, eggplant, Brussels sprouts), all of which disappeared with some wilted spinach, toasted pepitas and soft goats cheese.

I took absolutely no photos. Well, other than these, which were snapped after I made the molasses. I guess I was too busy eating.

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So, take two: I’m posting the recipe for pomegranate molasses today with plans to make more as autumn takes hold. It’ll be drizzled over roasted cauliflower (in yoghurt, olive oil and sumac), whisked into lentil salad dressings and best of all, I’m planning a chicken tagine with the molasses, plenty of pepper and oregano.

All very autumnal food, slow and nourishing, fragrant with warming spices. Watch this space for (new season) recipes, coming soon.

But for now? Make this molasses and drizzle it over your (homemade or store-bought, I don’t judge!) hummus with some toasted crushed pistachios and/or walnuts, chopped tomato and parsley. Have an end-of-summer (or winter, depending upon where you are) sundowner, with char-grilled bread and some chilled white wine.

It’s super good, borderline gourmet with very little fuss. You’ll be glad you did.

Pomegranate Molasses

Adapted from this recipe by Sarah Hobbs

  • 2-3 fresh pomegranates to yield 1 cup (250mL) of juice (I found 1 pomegranate = roughly 125mL of juice)
  • 1/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Remove arils from pomegranates (I use the scoring method from this post). Place into the bowl of a food processor, then process until crushed (the inner seeds should be visible and all flesh should be reasonably pulpy). Strain through a fine sieve into a jug, pressing the pulp with back of a spoon to release the juice.

Combine the juice (which should be around 1 cup) with the caster sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy, has reduced by half and easily coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into an airtight jar.

I store my pomegranate molasses in the pantry (at room temperature) as I use it quickly, however it should keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

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As I know how much you all love Loki, I thought I’d end with a quick snap (by Aaron) of what he does every time I use my food processor. As soon as the motor starts running, he sprints to the kitchen bench and launches an attack.

Heck he jumps high. I do hope he’s not afraid of it. I’ve attempted to confine him to the bedroom while I use it but… well, he hates it (meaning the confinement, but possibly the food processor too). Maybe he wants to operate it himself?

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shaved carrot salad with orange, pomegranate and mint

plateThere’s something about the end of another year that makes one strangely contemplative. Whilst I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, I generally follow the loose aim to try to ‘be better’ as the clock ticks over to January 1.

A better wife; strong, gentle and wise. An efficient worker and homemaker. A better daughter (this one has spanned decades), generous and loyal. A better friend and sister, regardless of time and frustration. A clear representative of my faith. Just generally better than the year before.

Better. 

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Despite realising the folly of setting broad, inchoate goals (less added value, inexorable failure) the ‘reset’ has been somewhat subconscious. I mean, I don’t spend each December 31 meditating upon my failures (okay, well maybe I do to a certain degree), selecting ‘states of betterment’ whilst sitting in the lotus position.

It just happens, like a subtle alarm, the benefit of which is urgency for positive change.
ribbonsSo, on January 1 2016 at 12:59, I’m sitting under the air conditioner with a cup of steaming herbal tea (current temperature is currently 35 degrees C / 95 degrees F but I’m English and tea solves everything). I’m contemplating effective change, clearer goals and less self-depreciation, as adherence to old patterns would cast me as either a fool or a lemming.

Short term goals seem like a good idea. Achievable, smart and time limited. Michael Hyatt seems to think it’s a good idea to write them down, so I’m factoring in some blogosphere accountability (a strange concept indeed) and capping the number at three.

Goal one for this year is to secure a job (preferably) before the end of January. Being unemployed is liberating but also disconcerting in the worst of ways; I’m continually counting pennies with mounting portions of nervous energy. Please don’t be concerned regarding my self esteem or resilience. My contract ended due to economic circumstances within my organisation, not due to individual performance (golly gosh, I think I’d avoid sharing that on the internet. Please know I’m ok!). However, I’ve explained in previous blog posts that I’m a terrible overthinker and free time leads to unconstrained pondering at all times of the day (or night).

I need purpose for my cognition, posthaste.

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That leads me to goal two, interim creative projects. I’m going to use my free time (and aforementioned cognition) productively whilst waiting for the right employment door to open. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff, I’m going to exercise a little grace and appreciate each moment as it comes. It’s not exactly an epiphany, but I’m gradually realising that each juncture should be appreciated and utilised, whether it be for breathing space, rest or creativity. However long I’m waiting for a passing train.

Last but not least, goal three: finding a way to reconnect with Church. This is a rather personal goal that may only make sense to those of you who follow a congregational faith. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably familiar with dialogues surrounding Church (and organised religion in general).

I struggle with Church. I find it hard to attend one. But I know that I need to.

pombetterAnyway, as the photographs suggest, I’m posting a recipe today. Something fresh, light and healthy, perfect for hot days and balmy Summer nights. It’s a new favourite on our seasonal menu, mostly due to the innate adaptability of the recipe. Extra hungry? Add protein. Feeling exotic? How about adding some coriander and chopped red chilli?

Just use the basic dressing and carrot ribbons, then follow the core principles below:

  1. freshness – soft herbs like parsley, mint and coriander and/or fresh leaves e.g. some torn baby spinach, rocket, beet leaves or chard
  2. fruit – switch up the pomegranate for some raisins or dried cranberries soaked in the orange juice, add in some grated or slivered apple (perhaps with some chopped celery and walnuts, such a good combination), substitute mandarin for the orange
  3. crunch – substitute the almonds for some toasted, crumbled walnuts or pecans, even some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  4. optional added protein (for the extra hungry) – if you’d like to fill out the salad for a healthy light meal, I’ve added a few of my favourite protein-packed ‘extras’ below (under ‘optional add ins’).

As always, thanks to all of you for being not only readers, but friends across the seas. Wishing you a beautiful, blessed and memorable start to 2016!

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Shaved Carrot Salad with Orange, Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a light meal

  • 2 large carrots, washed and peeled
  • 2 spring onions (green shallots), topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • a good handful of washed mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 navel orange, segmented (squeeze the juice from the leftover pulp into the dressing – 1 got about 50mL)
  • a good plug of extra virgin olive oil, about 50mL
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) good quality white wine vinegar
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • a squeeze of honey, to taste (use maple syrup for a vegan alternative)
  • optional, protein-packed add ins: good quality crumbled feta (about 100g will do), Italian canned tuna, rinsed cooked brown lentils, 1 cup cooked quinoa

Using a vegetable peeler, shave long thin strips off each carrot in a lengthwise rotation. Discard the hard centre and stem. Place shaved carrot into a medium bowl with the pomegranate arils, sliced spring onions, orange segments and mint (reserve some pomegranate arils and mint leaves to garnish later. Add in any optional tuna, quinoa, beans, lentils or feta (reserve some crumbled feta for garnish).

In a jug or bowl, whisk together the orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and a little honey or maple syrup. Taste, season and adjust sweetness as required.

Pour the dressing over the salad. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes for the flavours to develop. Remove from the refrigerator and gently mix through half of the toasted almonds, reserving the rest for garnish. Use tongs to transfer the salad to a serving platter, allowing excess dressing to drain back into the bowl.

Garnish with reserved pomegranate, mint, toasted almonds, feta (if using) and a grind of black pepper.

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pomegranate and star anise soda

jar2It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The air is cool, moist with lingering humidity from the warmish day-that-was. Rain birds call, their cries echoing from the trees to the thirsty earth. It’s going to rain tonight. The last month of autumn has beckoned the wet.

Not that I mind. I actually prefer the cooler months and their rain-splattered windows, worn leather boots and cosy, patterned blankets. Each rainy day brings opportunities for steaming hot porridge, six-hour lamb and melted cheese on garlicky toasted sourdough. My kind of bliss indeed.

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Admittedly, there are fleeting moments in winter when I’m sick of the grey. When my heart swells at the thought of sunshine, light cotton t-shirts and ice-cream by the seaside. During those times, I wrap myself in a blanket and eat a warm salad with as many colours as I can find. Between bites, I drink cold iced soda, preferably laden with fruit and heartening fresh mint.

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In hindsight, the above process is probably only suitable for the Australian winter. Here in Perth, our temperatures drop to a mean of about 7 degrees C (44 degrees f) in the evenings, definitely nowhere near freezing. However, this Aussie girl likes to eat, sip, snuggle under blankets and wait for cold liquid to travel from mouth to stomach. As I watch the ice cubes frost the side of the glass, I think of sunshine, bare feet and thick, wafting heat.

One of my favourite sodas of the moment incorporates sweet, red pomegranate, ripe citrus and fragrant star anise. When poured over ice, it’s my new favourite remedy for an exhausting day with bleary, overcast skies.

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This drink is beautiful as a sparkling fruit soda for hot (or cold) afternoons with friends, however if you’d like to elevate it into the ‘cocktail’ category, feel free to add a shot (30mL) of vodka during the mixing process. It’s delicious either way.

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Pomegranate and Star Anise Soda

Adapted from this recipe by the Kitchn.

Makes about 8 x 3 tbsp/45mL serves

  • 1/2 cup pink or red grapefruit juice (from about 1 small grapefruit)
  • 1/2 cup navel orange juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (from about 1 medium pomegranate*)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup white caster sugar
  • 2 star anise pods
  • ice cubes, to serve
  • chilled soda water, to serve
  • mint leaves and pomegranate arils for garnish (optional)

Combine citrus juice, pomegranate juice, sugar, water and star anise in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid reduces by one quarter.

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Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain and discard the star anise pods and any residual solids. Let syrup cool completely before using.

To serve, fill a 350ml glass halfway with ice cubes, add 3 tbsp of syrup (and 30mL vodka, if desired). Fill with soda water and stir well. Garnish with pomegranate arils and mint leaves.

*I removed the pomegranate arils (seeds) from the fruit, chucked them into the bowl of a blender and pulsed them briefly to extract the juice. If following this method, pour the extracted juice through a sieve to remove any seeds and residue. Feel free to substitute store-bought pomegranate juice if you can’t find fresh fruit.

You should be able to store any remaining syrup in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator indefinitely.

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freekeh salad with hot-smoked salmon, pomegranate and feta

saladThere’s been a lot of talk about ancient grains recently. A LOT of talk. And by talk, I’m referring to virtual obsession… on the internet, in restaurant menus, in burgers, breads, cakes and breakfast cereals.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. In fact, I’d happily state the opposite. Ancient grains are ridiculously good for you, they’re less refined and generally more nutritious than modern, over-processed grain products. They’re also frequently grown in an organic and sustainable manner, which is much better for the soil and the environment in general.

Yep, it’s all good.

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But rather than spending the rest of this post harping on about ancient grains (I’ll let those more qualified do that) I’m going to narrow down to one particular type of grain that I’ve recently fallen in love with: freekeh.

Technically, freekeh (“free-kah”) is a term given to any grain that is harvested, sun-dried, roasted and threshed whilst still green. In Australia, most available freekeh is currently made from durum wheat, however companies such as Greenwheat Freekeh in South Australia are currently working to produce green triticale and barley for commercial sale.

freekeh

Due to its early harvest, green freekeh contains more protein, vitamins and minerals than mature wheat and other grains. It is also higher in fibre whilst having a lower glycaemic index (GI), which means it’s great for management of diabetes.

Freekeh has been a staple part of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine for centuries, most commonly used in side dishes (like pilafs), stews and soups. It’s a wonderful, natural alternative to pasta or rice, with a slightly nutty flavour and crunchy texture.

My favourite way to consume freekeh is in a fresh, textural salad full of green herbs, nuts and seeds, great olive oil and sweet pops of fresh or dried berries. I’ve tried many over the past two years and I’ve loved most of them, the stand-outs being those that incorporate soft labne or goats curd, pomegranate arils and toasted nuts.

pombetter

The recipe that I’ve included below was a rather impromptu creation; the result of extreme hunger and some after-work fridge foraging (hence why some of the photographs were taken after dark; darn that yellowish tinge). Luckily, I had a beautiful Tasmanian hot-smoked salmon fillet on hand, alongside half a zucchini, broad beans, some organic freekeh and my favourite goats feta.

It all came together in a matter of minutes, discounting the ‘inactive cooking time’ required for wholegrain freekeh (about 45 minutes, which I spent drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic).

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When seasoning this salad, keep in mind that the salmon retains a lot of saltiness from the curing and smoking process. You’ll only need a little bit of salt to balance the rest of the dish.

However, if you generally avoid smoked fish, feel free to omit the salmon completely or substitute chunks of fresh seared salmon as desired. Whichever way, it’ll be delicious.

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Freekeh and Herb Salad with Hot-Smoked Salmon, Pomegranate and Feta

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal

  • 180g hot-smoked salmon fillets (preferably plain or peppered, not flavoured) roughly torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup wholegrain freekeh, rinsed
  • 1 cup broad beans (fresh or frozen are fine), double-podded
  • 1/2 medium zucchini, washed and diced
  • 1 cup washed and coarsely chopped mint, coriander and parsley leaves
  • a big handful of washed baby spinach leaves
  • About 60g marinated feta, chopped or broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup toasted, crushed nuts (I used almonds but pistachios or pine nuts would be wonderful)
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (arils) – about 1/2 large pomegranate
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 lemon + 1-2 tsp finely grated rind
  • 3-4 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses, or to taste

Place freekeh into a pot over high heat with 2 1/2 cups boiled water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 40 minutes or until the grains are softened but intact (they should still have a bit of ‘bite’ to them). Transfer to a large bowl, then set aside to cool slightly.

Heat 1 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Add zucchini and cook until slightly translucent. Add broad beans to the pan and continue cooking until the vegetables are light golden.

broadbeans

Transfer to the same bowl as the freekeh (add any cooking juices that have collected in the pan).

Mix the lemon juice and rind, the rest of the Brookfarm oil, pomegranate molasses and sherry vinegar in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl (reserve a bit of feta and some pomegranate arils to garnish, if desired), drizzle over the dressing and mix well.

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Serve on a platter, garnished with the reserved feta and arils. Drizzle with a little more Brookfarm oil or pomegranate molasses if desired.

This salad is beautiful on its own, as a barbecue accompaniment or just wrapped in warm, fresh flatbreads with a smear of homemade hummus (perfect for lunch).

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

quinoa salad with preserved lemon, pomegranate and mint

pomisalad

Crimson red, forest green, flecks of gold and snow-capped white. Absolutely everywhere? Yep, that’s the Christmas season for you. Alternatively, you could be sitting in a camp Italian restaurant waiting for garlicky pasta marinara… but since it’s December, let’s go with the former.

Hm, Christmas. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost upon us… in nine days to be exact. I’m only half way through my Christmas shopping but I’ve already celebrated three times this month; with work, family and most recently, with friends around an apartment barbecue. This gathering, albeit informal, contained pretty much all that I love about Christmas. We shared great food and weird stories around an improvised table before crashing on the floor to watch Charlie the Unicorn with rich cocoa brownies and wine in mismatched glasses.

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Strangely, there was no tinsel in sight. No pudding either. We did, however, celebrate the year that was, whilst thanking God for His strength that brought us through every circumstance. Now, I know that for some people ‘religious talk’ is a big turn off in any context, especially in an otherwise non-religious blog post. But since it’s December, nine days away from Christmas, please grant me one line: I believe that Jesus Christ is the one gift that matters, the Saviour for all eternity and the biggest reason to lift our hearts in celebration this Christmas and always.

There, that’s it. If you’d like to find out more, or if you have no idea what I’m going on about, take a look here (also check out Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20). If you don’t want to bother, then don’t. Okay, on with the recipe post.

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In my opinion, today’s recipe is perfect for a balmy Australian Christmas. It’s deliciously light, fresh and healthy but will add a touch of Christmas colour and complexity to your festive table. The main ingredients you’ll need are quinoa, pomegranate, mint and preserved lemon. I’ve discussed quinoa previously in my Honey Chia Muesli Slice post, but in a nutshell it’s the seed of an Andean flowering plant that’s full of vitamins, complete protein and minerals. It’s both delicious and good for you, especially when complimented by complex flavours such as goat’s cheese, mint, pomegranate seeds and toasted nuts.

This salad was happily devoured at our communal barbecue with creamy potato and bacon salad, Heirloom tomato salad, fresh kaiser rolls, homemade beetroot relish, chicken kebabs and garlicky Scotch fillet steaks. It’s a beautiful feeling to bring joy to people through the medium of food, especially during the holiday season. I hope that this recipe will become a valued (and healthy) part of your festive repertoire this Summer.

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Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 3-4 as a light meal or 6 as an accompaniment

  • 3/4 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 1/4 cup dry organic black Royal Quinoa
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, a few leaves reserved
  • 2 quarters (or half) of a preserved lemon*
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds removed, pith and skin discarded (see below for preparation tips)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or Danish feta
  • 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, lightly toasted then coarsely crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a fresh lemon (or to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • pomegranate molasses* (optional)

Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour). Drain well, then place your quinoa in a medium saucepan. Add in two cups of fresh cold water, replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Immediately lower the heat so that the mixture simmers gently, then cook with the lid in place for about 15 minutes. When your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes, covered, then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, some sea salt and black pepper. Place into a medium bowl then set aside.

quinoalemon

Start preparing your preserved lemon: remove and discard the flesh from the rinds. Rinse the rinds well under fresh cold water then pat them dry with a paper towel. Chop finely with a very sharp knife; first lengthways then crossways as below:

preservedlemonscut

Add the prepared rind to your quinoa, then set aside. Next, remove the seeds from your pomegranate. There are several ways to do this without resembling a blood-splattered butcher, but my favourite method is practiced by Sanam at My Persian Kitchen. Check out her tutorial here. Once you’ve dislodged your seeds, make sure that there’s no remaining white pith, skin or membrane attached then add them to your bowl of ingredients with the chopped mint, crumbled cheese, three quarters of the nuts and an extra splash of olive oil. Mix well, then season with salt and pepper. Add in a little more lemon juice if desired.

mixsalad

To serve, place your quinoa salad into a clean bowl or onto a serving platter, then garnish with a good drizzle of pomegranate molasses, the extra nuts, reserved mint leaves and some black pepper. Serve on it’s own, or as an accompaniment with some grilled harissa chicken and a dollop of mint-infused Greek yoghurt.

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Notes:

  • *Preserved lemons are made by quartering fresh lemons and packing them tightly in sterilised jars with salt and lemon juice. After a few weeks, the rind and pith soften into a delicious, slightly salty, intensely lemony condiment that’s perfect to add to salads, tagines, and pretty much any other North African or Moroccan dish. Read more about preserved lemons here.
  • *Pomegranate molasses (above) is a concentrated form of pomegranate juice. It’s sticky, sweetly tart and slightly syrupy, and it adds an extra dimension of deliciousness to this dish if you can purchase some. I order mine via mail from Herbie’s at Gourmet Shopper, see link. It’s also delicious in cocktails or in marinades for chicken or fish.
  • Quinoa ratios for cooking: as a general rule, one cup dry quinoa yields about three cups of cooked quinoa. Always use the ratio of one part dry quinoa to two parts water or other liquids. You can also soak quinoa in the same amount of liquid to ease digestive processes whilst maintaining nutrients in an almost-raw state. See this tutorial for more details. It also helps remove some of the bitter saponin that I mentioned above.
  • Feel free to experiment with various stocks and soaking liquids to add extra flavour. I’ve also cooked quinoa in water with a splash of maple syrup to create a sweet-ish breakfast porridge, crowned with fresh creamy ricotta, toasted almonds, a sprinkle of cinnamon and grated orange zest. So delicious and so good for you.
  • Quinoa adapts incredibly well to any recipe that calls for seeds or grains. I’ve used it successfully as a substitute for bulgur in Tabbouleh whilst also reinventing salads traditionally inhabited by Couscous. You’ll be pleased to know that it completely overwhelms the nutritional value of each.

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