With quinoa gaining visibility, both on restaurant menus and grocery shelves, you may be asking “what” and “why.”
Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah,” is very high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. This makes it a great option for individuals trying to put more meat-free meals in their week. It also is an acceptable food in another major food trend of today, namely gluten-free eating.
While considered an “ancient grain,” it is not a member of the true grass family but closely related to species such as beetroots and spinach.
Quinoa needs to be cooked before consumed. The resulting texture is akin to barley, with a pleasant chewiness and yet a light fluffiness similar to properly prepared couscous. Consumers are eating it because it is good for you, and tastes good!
Tonic has offered quinoa on its menu since the restaurant first opened. Tonic’s Quinoa Chicken Caesar is comprised of greens, walnuts, Parmesan and house dressing — an authentic Caesar that owner Nicci Sylvester learned from her uncle who obtained it while working on an Italian fishing boat. The final result is a hearty main dish salad.
Sylvester finds this salad to be quite popular among gluten-free customers, who she suspects may be drawn to it through their familiarity with Caesar, only to discover great delight in quinoa. Vegetarians, fear not! You still can enjoy quinoa at Tonic through its tabouleh, which is homemade using tri-color quinoa to add varied flavor components and which is a key component of the fresh Mediterranean Salad on Tonic’s menu.
Several local restaurants offer salads where quinoa is layered on greens. Five West Kitchen and Bar and The Loop, both under the same overhead ownership, offer a Blackened Chicken Quinoa Salad. The dish consists of layered chopped spinach, quinoa, avocado, roasted pepper, fresh herbs, fresno chili and feta cheese, topped with strips of blackened chicken and served with both a mango yogurt dressing and champagne vinaigrette.
Indeed, the creamy texture and unique flavor of the accompanying dressings offer a nice contrast to the “kick” from the chilies and overall crunch of the salad. The chicken itself is not over seasoned. It doesn’t overpower the other flavors but instead compliments them.
When dining downtown, one finds another spinach leaf-quinoa salad at Pescara. Here, roasted pecans, apple and roasted corn are added, then the salad is served with a red pepper vinaigrette. This makes a terrific entree salad with the addition of a meat or fish option. Sorry, vegetarians! Maybe someday tofu will make it to Pescara’s menu.
For a full-flavored hearty dish, the Quinoa Curry Bowl at The Grand Grill in the Kahler Hotel is not to be missed. It is packed with steamed broccolini, roasted red peppers, grilled portabella mushrooms, kale and onions tossed with a homemade green curry sauce, then served with the restaurant’s quinoa pilaf. And yes, it is served hot!
Not sure you want a full meal based on quinoa? Then return to The Loop for its Cranberry Wild Rice Quinoa Cakes appetizer. The cakes are assembled with freshly sauteed vegetables, to retain nutrient value lost when boiling, and fresh, juiced citrus. The cakes are served on a bed of arugula with pecans, balsamic vinaigrette and maple dressing.
Chef Seth Essar believes the popularity of this item corresponds to a broader trend, quite apparent in 2015 and which he observes continuing into 2016: “eating healthier.”
Want to venture further into the spectrum of color and flavors? You won’t want to miss the Roasted Beet Salad served at The Loop. This dish features quinoa on arugula along with roasted beets, chevre cheese, candied pecans and honey mustard vinaigrette. As Essar puts it, with the fresh beets, this salad is simply a “funky, fresh twist.”
OK, so I am one who like beets and simply have to agree. Plus, the arugula imparts a whole different flavor, so for the adventuresome palate, it is time to give this dish a try.
By the way, come mid-March into April both The Loop and Five West will unveil their spring menus. You will be hearing more from me on those in due time. Meanwhile, on Feb. 11, we’re talking salmon (for seafood lovers). Until then!
1217 2nd St SW
Five West Kitchen and Bar
1991 Commerce Drive NW
318 1st Ave SW
150 South Broadway
20 2nd Ave SW
Margo Stich is a Rochester freelance writer.