Friday, November 25, 2011

Quinoa Pilaf with Mushrooms & Walnuts

For our dinner on the night before Thanksgiving, I felt the need for something light, sustaining and simple. The quinoa pilaf I made that night filled the bill perfectly and was so good I wanted to share it here. Since it was also quick to prepare and didn't dirty too many dishes, it made a perfect holiday weeknight meal.

If you aren't in the habit of preparing main course pilafs, you will find a primer of sorts in a post I wrote over a year ago for a bulgur pilaf. Pilafs are great, not only because they tend to be whole grain-based, but also because they take easily to adaptation and variation. If you keep your favorite grains on hand and are in the habit of regularly stocking up on seasonal vegetables, a pilaf is easy to put together.

The basic components of the quinoa pilaf I made—shallots, garlic, mushrooms, walnuts and parsley—will combine well with all kinds of winter vegetables. I topped ours with some baby Brussels sprouts and the last of the beautiful little white topped turnips from my farmers' market. But if you don't have turnips, you could top the pilaf with the Brussels sprouts and some chunks of roasted winter squash or maybe some roasted carrots. Almost any roasted root vegetable would be good. For a pretty presentation, you could roast some half circles of Delicata squash and then pile the pilaf, followed by the Brussels Sprouts, on top of the squash (as I did in the vegetable medley I posted a few days ago). If you don't have any Brussels sprouts on hand (I always keep Brussels Sprouts around during the fall and winter months—I love them), some cooked kale, spinach or chard—folded into the pilaf—would be good, too.

For us, the quinoa and vegetables really were just the thing for the eve of The Feast. But if a grain pilaf with vegetables doesn't sound like dinner to you, then you could always serve it as a side dish. I think it would go particularly well with salmon (perhaps on a bed of wilted spinach). But it would also be good with chicken...or maybe even some leftover turkey.

Quinoa Pilaf with Mushrooms & Walnuts

1/2 T. olive oil
1/2 T. butter
5 to 6 oz. mixed mushrooms (crimini, oyster, shiitake, etc.), trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick or cut into uniform pieces
1 T. olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. quinoa, well-rinsed and drained
2/3 c. hot chicken stock or water (or turkey stock...I just happened to have some on hand)
1/4 c. toasted walnuts, coarsely broken and tossed with a small amount of olive oil and some salt, if you like.
2 T. chopped parsley

Sauté the mushrooms: Heat a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt and pepper.

oyster and crimini mushrooms

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan set over moderate heat. Add the shallot and garlic along with a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent Add the quinoa and cook, stirring to coat in the fat until hot through. This will take a minute or two. The quinoa should be sizzling and snapping in the hot fat. Add the stock along with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes—or until cooked through. The grain will be translucent and the thin germ coil will be white. Remove from the heat, scatter the mushrooms over the surface of the quinoa and let rest, covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, adding the walnuts and parsley. Makes 2 portions. Recipe is easily multiplied.

To prepare the Brussels sprouts (and turnips, if using): Fill a shallow, straight-sided sauté pan that is wide enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer with a quarter inch of water. Add some butter and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts (and turnips)

and some optional picked thyme and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and boil over moderately high to high heat until water is evaporated and the vegetables are sizzling in the butter and beginning to caramelize, 3 to 4 minutes.

Spoon over the pilaf. For two portions, I used 5 or 6 oz. of each of the Brussels sprouts and the turnips. The Brussels sprouts should be halved and the turnips cut into uniform wedges that are about the same size as the Brussels sprouts halves. For every pound of combined vegetables, use about a tablespoon of butter.

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