Like so many pressing culinary issues, sorting through the wealth of new quinoa cookbooks -- the latest cookbook trend, it appears, second to cake balls on a stick -- all comes down to pie crust.
Of the half dozen titles we've seen of late dedicated to the ancient seed with Aztec roots, two in particular summarize the category. On one side of the table, you have books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Quinoa Cuisine that focus on the high protein, high fiber, diet-friendly health side of the recipe equation. Others, notably Quinoa Cuisine, make a tidy note of quinoa's health benefits in the subtitle and Introduction, then focus on the powerful flavor packed in every little seed.
Not that there's anything wrong with The Idiot's Guide approach. Particularly in this case, many of us would likely benefit from an elementary "Quinoa 101" educational model, as the grain-like seed hasn't yet hit the mainstream dinner market in many regions (you can find it at specialty shops like Whole Foods). And perhaps you are counting your calories (calorie counts are here but absent from Quinoa Cuisine). If sidebars like "Adding flavor without adding calories" are what you're after, The Idiot's Guide version by local "Bikini Chef" Susan Irby is the book for you.
The recipes are what we have come to expect from the Idiot's Guide brand: everyday basics for the novice quinoa cook. Folding quinoa into sandwich wraps, adding it to to beef stews and turkey chili, and using it as serving nest for roast fish, chicken and such. The book cover also promises "Over 20 celebrity chef recipes!" [Next up, an Idiot's Guide To Celebrity Cookbooks?]. Here, the food celebrities in question include a home cook who was a finalist on The Next Food Network Star, numerous California restaurant chefs, and the author's executive producer/radio co-host. But hey, if there's one thing we can appreciate living in L.A., it's that no term is more relative than "celebrity." And Irby certainly knows her everyday quinoa chocolate chip cookie recipes.
There are also a handful of more interesting dishes here like M Café's Scarlet quinoa salad (get the recipe over at the L.A. Times) and a breakfast tabbouleh from Randal St. Clair of Mohawk Bend that's loaded with oranges, pomegranate seeds, nuts and agave syrup.
But if you consider the health benefits of quinoa more of a bonus, not the driving force, behind your newfound almond-cranberry quinoa cookie interest, Quinoa Cuisine is the book for you. That authors Jessica Harlan, a food writer, and Kelley Sparwasser, a former chef, are not involved in the health industry is an added bonus: see their fried fish taco (wrapped in homemade quinoa flour tortillas).
Here, the diet-related symbols that accompany each recipe are limited to which are gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and such. There are also symbols indicating which recipes are quick to prepare, kid-friendly, freeze well, and those that are roll-out-the-guest-carpet worthy. It's more of a democratic what's-for-dinner approach to quinoa that we can all appreciate on any given night.
The book also serves as an impressively comprehensive guide to the different types of quinoa, and quinoa cooking techniques, for such a slim paperback. The first chapter is dedicated to what the authors dub the 12 "essential" quinoa recipes, from pancakes to tortillas, biscuits, pilaf, pizza dough and two pie crust recipes. In other chapters you'll find fried green tomatoes in quinoa flour batter, Thai summer rolls with mango and peanut sauces, sesame-quinoa cheese straws, artichoke and lamb crepes, and a wild mushroom quinoa pilaf using mushrooms Sparwasser foraged (!). For dessert, there's quinoa-ginger biscotti, walnut wedding cookies, and a maple cake that even comes with a Calvados-pairing suggestion (Sparwasser works in the wine industry).
But as we were saying, it really all comes down to pie crust. In Quinoa Cuisine, neither of the crusts is made from 100% quinoa flour, but blended with whole wheat flour in one recipe, rice flour in another for a gluten-free version. (In her dessert chapter, Irby has two 100% quinoa pie crust recipes.) If you've ever made 100% quinoa flour anything -- pie crust, bread or pizza dough -- as we have for various recipe testing assignments, you'll understand the value that comes from adding a second flour. It's a subtle, but essential, quinoa flour flavor and texture tweak.
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More so, we can only imagine, when you're using your mother-in-law's 1970s-era cranberry cherry tart recipe, as Sparwasser did (brave woman). And serving it with a "better for you" crust at that next family holiday gathering. Might be a good idea to bring along that bottle of Calvados.
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