Welcome to the first installment of a new series by Clean Plates. This week's special features quinoa, the only grain that has all eight amino acids needed to form a complete protein. This ancient grain was worshipped by the Incas, and quite possibly by Chef Ray Garcia of FIG restaurant in Santa Monica, California, too. His quarterly Farm Dinners, a four-course prix fixe dinner sourced entirely from one local farm, are a hot reservation to score in Los Angeles.
Fortunately, his quinoa is available every night. We asked him to dish with us about his favorite healthy ingredient.
What's your favorite ingredient á la minute?
I love quinoa, it's very versatile, has great texture and is really an underused grain. We use Scarlet quinoa; it's a vibrant red when cooked. It's great at balancing and working with other big ingredients to make a really satisfying dish.
How did you discover quinoa?
I try to strike a balance in my approach to cooking, whether in a vinaigrette or across a menu. When we first opened the restaurant we wanted to have some fun, more decadent dishes on the menu, but we also wanted it to be a place where you could come and eat six days a week. Your heart can't handle pork belly that often. We wanted healthy alternatives to round out the menu. I played with a bunch of grains like millet and amaranth and landed on quinoa. It was healthy and tasted great. The Scarlet quinoa was the one I liked.
How are you using it now?
The Scarlet quinoa is a workhorse — it stands up to a sauté and more aggressive cooking techniques. We have a signature chopped quinoa salad on our menu with apples, carrots, almonds, orange blossom honey and Champagne vinegar — even among all those strong flavors it still keeps its own. I (and many chefs) will joke about a dish, "It's better with bacon, it's better with butter." I joke that this salad is the one thing I wouldn't add bacon to.
Where do you source the quinoa for your restaurant?
It's an Andean grain, so it's usually from Peru or Bolivia. Ours is from a Fair Trade source in Bolivia.
What's the most interesting quinoa dish you've made?
I was doing a breakfast at the Santa Monica Farmers Market to celebrate their 30th anniversary and wanted to come up with something that really showcased the harvest of the market. I made a quinoa hash with potatoes, corn, serrano chiles and quinoa — a lot of people thought that the red quinoa binding it together was ground corned beef. It went really well with the poblano hollandaise and poached eggs. I still get requests for that [at the restaurant] every now and then.
That's probably the most interesting thing I've done with quinoa, apart from our signature salad at the restaurant. If we took that away there would be a revolt.
FIG's Signature Quinoa Salad with Orange Blossom Vinaigrette
Quinoa is the only grain that's a complete protein. Chef Garcia changes the vegetables in this vegan dish based on what's in season at the farmers market.
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup olive oil, plus 2½ tablespoons, divided
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup butternut squash, cut into ½-inch-cubes
½ cup haricot vert or small slender green beans, trimmed
1 Granny Smith apple, skin-on, cored, julienned
½ cup thinly sliced Swiss chard stems and leaves
¼ cup slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In small pot over medium-heat, reduce orange juice by half. Cool. In small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, honey and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In medium pot, bring vegetable stock to boil. Add quinoa and rosemary sprig, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl, discard rosemary spring and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Meanwhile, oil a baking sheet with ½ tablespoon oil. Spread butternut squash cubes in single layer; sprinkle with salt. Roast for 15 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender.
Meanwhile, in heat remaining tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté apples and Swiss chard until apples soften and Swiss chard wilts, about 3 minutes. Add haricot vert; sauté 2 minutes more, or until crisp-tender.
Add roasted quash and sautéed ingredients to quinoa in bowl. Toss to combine. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat.
Garnish with slivered almonds and serve.
Text by Clean Plates contributor Tory L. Davis.