I was once married to a man who had cancer. (Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of story: cancer didn’t kill the marriage, his infidelities did). The man began to unravel at the diagnosis; in an effort to give him a sense of control over his cancer, I suggested we go on a macrobiotic diet.
I didn’t think then any more than I do now that there is a scientific reason for following a macrobiotic diet when one has cancer. But the man with cancer embraced it as a way to fight his disease, and for that it was useful.
It wasn’t very tasty. No nightshades (sayonara, my beloved tomatoes and red bell peppers!), no dairy (soy substitutes for cheese and ice cream- ugh), no meat or poultry, and no cookies (or cakes or Swedish fish candy!). A macrobiotic diet has some inherent health benefits: it is generally low in fat and high in certain important nutrients (though often lacking in others). About half the calories come from whole grains and the rest from vegetables, legumes, seaweed, nuts and seeds, and an occasional piece of fish. I survived an entire year without a single tomato nor the tiniest little lick of butter.
I learned a great deal about grains that year. (And about a whole lot more, but that is a story for another time). Long before anyone knew how to pronounce this odd little grain (keen-wa) and more than a decade before it appeared on my grocery store shelf, I went to the library (that’s how long ago it was) to research how to cook it.
I’m glad I did: I love quinoa to this day. I love its funny little crunch, sperm-like shape, and nutty flavor. I also love that this ancient Incan grain is higher in both protein and fiber than most whole grains. (While the calories are comparable at about 220 per cup, a cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein while brown rice has five; quinoa has 5 grams of fiber and brown rice has four.)
It used to be quinoa had to be thoroughly rinsed before cooking to remove its bitter flavor, but many brands, including Bob’s Red Mill and Ancient Harvest, now sell it pre-rinsed. It’s not a big deal if you need to rinse it, though. Just measure the amount you want to cook, dump it in a fine mesh strainer, and run it under cold water, shaking around the grains until they are thoroughly rinsed.
I not only make quinoa as a side dish with dinner, but also to serve at parties, where it looks and holds beautifully on a buffet.
Quinoa with Dried Apricots and Cherries with Cumin Vinaigrette
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 cup dried apricots (about 10), chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground cayenne (less than 1/8 teaspoon…you can always add more)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
- Rinse the quinoa if necessary; combine with the water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat, add the apricots and cherries to the pot, cover and simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk the lemon juice, cumin, salt, cayenne and olive oil together in the bowl in which you will serve the quinoa. Add the quinoa, onion, parsley, mint and thyme and toss thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings
228 calories, 5 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 199 mg sodium
You can find quinoa at almost any grocery store, or on Amazon. I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill (pictured above right), Ancient Harvest, Village Harvest (pictured above left), Eden, and Arrowhead with equal success. I generally now look for pre-rinsed quinoa (might as well save the step)– it will be clearly marked as such on the label.