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Real Food: Light quinoa salad will put a spring in your step

By: Joanne Neft
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April is the time of year to begin serving lighter fare. Oftentimes we want to spend more time outdoors in the garden or on hikes through the canyon so it’s important to prepare meals that are simple and take less time. A quinoa salad perfectly suits such an occasion. Whenever we serve quinoa in a recipe, people ask what it is, and then they ask for a second serving. Not a common item in most kitchens, quinoa is a high protein seed that has a slightly fluffy crunchy texture and a slightly nutty flavor when cooked. Quinoa is a grain-like crop native to South America, and it was once called “the gold of the Incas.” People of the Andes recognized its value in increasing the stamina of their warriors. Quinoa is not only high in protein, it is a complete protein, meaning it includes all nine essential amino acids. After quickly washing and drying the quinoa, toast it. Quinoa will taste even nuttier if it’s slightly toasted over a medium heat until slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Quinoa comes in colors of neutral, red and black. The colors all have similar tastes; select which color will show best when served with everything else on the plate. My preference is to use either red or black quinoa since our plates are celadon green. Quinoa can always be found in health food or specialty produce stores; some stores feature it in their bin sections. Learn more about Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny’s “Placer County Real Food” project and cookbook at www.placercountyrealfood.com. __________ Black Quinoa with Mushrooms and Snow Peas 1 cup black quinoa, rinsed 3 cups warm liquid (a combination of boiling water and low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth) 1 tablespoon butter 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced or cut into bite-sized pieces 1 onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped 3 to 4 tablespoons sour cream ½ pound snow peas Several fresh basil leaves, shredded In a heavy non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat, lightly toast the quinoa until slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Pour in 1 cup of the liquid, stirring as you go. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the fresh mushrooms and the onion, cooking until lightly browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic about halfway through. When the liquid has been absorbed by the grains, add more of the liquid a little at a time, continuing until the grains have absorbed it all and are tender crisp, about 15 to 25 minutes. Stir in the mushroom mixture and sour cream; cover and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork, garnish with snow peas and basil, and serve.