Quinoa, Part II

quinoa risottoQuinoa week continues here with a risotto recipe from my friend Liz. Now, I was initially a little nervous about making this recipe, as Liz’s specific request was not only that I try it but that I improve on the one she’s been making. This was daunting because Liz comes from a large Italian family that knows how to cook. She used to come back to college (I lived no more than a hallway-down from her for 4 years of college, from the dorms to our very “college” off-campus housing) from weekends at home with tuperware containers-full of homemade Italian food, so I know this first-hand. I know this because I’ve been schooled by Liz (many years ago, so perhaps she doesn’t remember) on the proper pronunciation of gnocci. I also trust Liz’s palate because she introduced me to one of my favorite restaurants here in the city, Cafe Habana. So it’s one thing to try and improve on the recipe of an amateur, and quite another to improve on risotto for an Italian girl that has good cooks in the family and a great palate. Talk about pressure!

I tried my best. I think my new motto is: when in doubt, do what Ina (Garten — do we really need a last name here, though?) would do. Actually, that might have always been my motto. No, I didn’t add butter. I added lemon zest, which Ina claims to be the secret ingredient in her risotto. I also tried something I’ve never tried before: fake parmesan cheese. Sorry, Liz! I’m not sure your family would disown you if you ever bought such a thing, so I’ll give you a pass and let you use the real stuff here if you wish. But for the rest of you vegans, dairy-free or just plain adventurous folk, I’m somewhat relieved to report that it wasn’t half bad! Actually, I sort of shamefully enjoyed it. This might render me completely blacklisted from the foodie world, but I’m gonna own it anyways. Vegan parmesan is not as scary as you might think. Parma is a tasty option with only three ingredients: walnuts, nutritional yeast and celtic sea salt. I learned about that one from another one of my Vegan at Heart missions (well, with food tips nearly daily, it’s really hard not to learn a thing or two that I can pass on to all of you).

I also used wine in this recipe, which, in my opinion, is a bit obligatory in the risotto department. Wine is one of those things I innocently assumed was just grapes + a little fermentation + a bottle = wine. Like many things in life, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. For example, yeast is used in the fermentation process. Sometimes animal products are used as well. Add barrels that might be made of oak and sealed with wheat paste. Luckily, a simple Google search informed me that most of the strains of yeast are killed off by the time wine gets to your glass — or in your risotto. I don’t know what this means if you’re sensitive to brewer’s yeast (which I am), but I find that I can tolerate wine and not beer (even the wheat-free kind, so it’s not the wheat), so I’d suggest  you let your body or your doctor be your guide on that one. I have no idea whether nutritional yeast falls under the brewer’s yeast sensitivity, either, and no Google search seems to turn up a definitive answer, unfortunately. I think I’ll stick to the “let your body be your guide” test for that, as imprecise as that test can sometimes be (i.e. I don’t necessarily recommend it for everyone. This might be where the “I am not a doctor” disclaimer might come in handy. I’m not; I was an English major in college who barely scraped by in biology). A Google search did turn up this list of vegan wine and this one for gluten-free wines.

Oh, and I lied. I said I was going to make this with asparagus, but I saw baby arugula at the market and tried that instead. I loved it, so baby arugula it is.

Serves: 2 if you live with my fiance; 3-4, I’m guessing, in any other home

Quinoa Risotto:

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa, well rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups vegetable broth

3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced

zest of one lemon

1/3 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons parmesan substitute or nutritional yeast

2 teaspoons wheat-free tamari or 1 teaspoon Bragg’s liquid aminos

1 cup baby arugula

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, bring vegetable broth to a simmer over medium heat.

2. In a large pan or Dutch Oven, saute onion and garlic in oil over medium-high until soft and transluscent, about 3 minutes. Add in quinoa and stir to coat with oil. Add wine and simmer until mostly absorbed, stirring occassionally.

3. In 1/2 cup increments, add warm vegetable broth to quinoa and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occassionally. Repeat. After you have added 2 cups of broth, stir in shiitakes. After you have added 2 1/2 cups of broth, remove quinoa from heat and stir in remaining ingredients, including the last 1/2 cup of broth. Quinoa will absorb some of the liquid still, so stir and let absorb until desired consistency is reached. Taste for flavor and add a few more drops tamari, liquid aminos or a bit more parmesan substitute if desired.

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