Quinoa “paella” (Chicken and Chorizo)

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Basics needed:

QUINOA
How to peel a pepper

Paella is a well-known Spanish dish, and the most famous version is made with rice, chicken and seafood, and peppers, with the addition of a good of pinch of saffron that gives the dish its distinctive yellow colour.

Personally I am not a big fan of putting meat and fish in the same dish (with some exception, but chicken and seafood definitely falls into the main rule), and I’d rather make my paella with either chicken OR seafood.
Looking for ideas for a chicken paella I came across a version with chorizo, which is an ingredient I particularly like. Since I tend to use quinoa as a substitute for rice due to its higher nutritional value, I decided to make a quinoa paella.
In this recipe I use chorizo sausage, which is more suitable for cooking; however, if you cannot find it, dried chorizo can be used instead.
I also use chicken thigh fillets as it is my favourite part, and, for a finer result, I peel the peppers before cooking them

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
360 g white quinoa
200 g Chorizo sausage
3 small chicken thighs fillets, without skin
2 red bell peppers
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp. Olive oil
1 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
1 pinch of saffron
Salt
Parsley, finely chopped.
Flour, or corn starch to coat the meat
1 l vegetable stock (optional)

This is the process:

  1. Sear the peppers on an open flame, and place them in a bag; once cold, peel them, then remove the seeds and the white membranes inside
  2. Cut the chicken in small pieces and coat it with flour. NOTE: if you want a gluten-free dish, use corn starch instead
  3. Cut the chorizo in small pieces and dry-fry it in a large pan or skillet, trying not to make it crispy
  4. When the chorizo is done, remove it from the pan and set aside. The sausage will have released some of its fat; add some olive oil if need and cook the chicken until brown on all sides; set aside
  5. Still in the same skillet, on a very low heat, sweat the onions for five minutes
  6. In the meantime, roughly chop the peppers, and when the onion is soft, add to the pan and cook for another five minutes
  7. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, making sure it doesn’t get brown
  8. Dice the tomatoes and add them to the other ingredients
  9. Rinse the quinoa and add it to the pan, and cover with the stock, if using, or boiling water if not
  10. Add the smoked paprika and simmer until almost all the water has been absorbed
  11. At the end, add the saffron and cook until all the water has been absorbed
  12. Sprinkle with parsley before serving

How to peel a pepper

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We’ve seen in Roast Peppers how to cook peppers and remove the skin. The peppers are cooked through resulting in a soft texture.
With this technique, it is possible to peel the peppers still keeping a bite, and an almost raw feel:

Using a fork or even a carving fork, sear the pepper over an open flame; when the skin starts blistering  and looks like the picture above, place in an airtight contained (a plastic bag will do the job) to cool. Once cold, remove the skin.

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QUINOA

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Quinoa is a plant native to the Andes and has been known for over fives thousand years. It was a staple food of the Incas, who considered it sacred, and it was referred to as the ‘mother grain’ (Chisaya Mama) or ‘gold of the Incas’.
It comes in a variety of colours (white, pale yellow, red, brown and black) and nowadays is sold in grains, flour or flakes.

Although generally referred to as a grain (mainly due to its appearance), technically is the seed of a leafy plant called Chenopodium quinoa, which is distantly related to the spinach plant.
The grain itself is small and round, with a fine band around it, which ends with a sort of tiny ‘tail’. This tail is hardly noticeable in the raw grain, but it spirals out when it cooks, making it look like a sort of ring, clearly visible around the grain.

The most interesting thing about quinoa is that it can be considered an almost complete food: very high in proteins, full of vitamins, gluten-free, cholesterol-free and, last but not least, delicious.

Something that needs to be mentioned is quinoa protein content. As you might know, proteins are the building blocks of our bodies, and are made by chains of amino acids. Amino acids can be grouped in non-essential (i.e. those that our body can produce) and essential (those that our body cannot produce and need to be obtained from food).

Animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids, whilst vegetable proteins, in general don’t.

However, quinoa is an exception to this rule as it contains all the essential amino acids, thus providing complete proteins, to the extent that the quality of its protein has been likened by the World Health Organisation as being closest to milk.

This characteristic makes it a very important addition to a vegetarian or (even more) vegan diet, or it can simply be useful for someone who wants to cut down on meat.

In addition, quinoa contains more calcium than cow’s milk, has got excellent antioxidant properties, is rich in fibre, contains more unsaturated fats than any grain plus a low Glycemic index (i.e. the carbs are released slowly and steadily in the blood stream and this gives the body more time to use the energy without turning them into fat).

Having said this about the benefits of quinoa, we can now switch to the culinary part, which is just as important, because the only way to stick to a healthy diet is enjoying it. If eating healthy food is seen as a sacrifice, it will not work in the long run.
Rather than giving a specific recipe, I will explain how to cook the quinoa in its grain form, which is the most common, and for now simply think that you could use it as a replacement for boiled rice, for example. Detailed recipes will come in the next posts.

This is the process:

  • First I suggest that you rinse thoroughly the grains. This is needed because quinoa seeds are covered in a soapy-like substance called ‘saponin’. Saponin is very bitter and prevents birds and insects from eating the seeds.
    Although commercially available quinoa normally comes pre-washed and ready to cook, it is good practice to rinse it. In order to do that, simply place it in a fine sieve and rinse under cold tap water, rubbing it between your finger tips, and drain well.
    Due to the size of the grains, you will need a very fine sieve.
  • The second step is optional, and it is toasting, which adds a nutty taste. To do that, dry-roast the grains in a pan until the start to pop (a bit like pop corn but on a much smaller scale; you won’t need to keep the lid on) and release a nice nutty aroma. White quinoa is ready when it turns golden brown, other colours are more difficult to asses.
    Some people like it toasted, some don’t, and it also depends on what you are using your quinoa for, so I suggest you try both and decide for yourself.
  • Finally, place the rinsed (and toasted if you like it) quinoa in a sauce pan with three parts liquid (water, vegetable stock or even milk), salt to taste, bring it to the boil and then simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed (10-15 minutes)
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Your quinoa is now read y to be used as part of another dish, a salad or instead of rice.

Summer Tuna Salad

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With hot weather most people tend to eat less and is nice to have something cold and refreshing.
This is a very simple (and also healthy and tasty) salad made with fresh tuna chunks.
Cutting the various ingredients in the right way will give your salad a nice appearance and an even nicer texture.
Only one thing before explaining the recipe step by step: the cooking time that I give for the tuna might sound very short. It’s not a mistake, I poach it for 90 seconds, as tuna dries out very quickly; if you cook it for a short time, however, you will keep it tender and moist
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INGREDIENTS (serves 4):

600 g fresh tuna
250 g Cos lettuce
2 carrots
2 fennel bulbs
20 cherry tomatoes
1/4 red onion
16 Kalamata olives

100 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 tbsp lemon juice, filtered
3 pinches of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt

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This is the process:
First, poach the tuna. Normally fresh fish is poached in water with some lemon juice or vinegar; I don’t find it necessary here because the acidity will come from the vinaigrette:

  • Bring a pan of salty water to the boil
  • Cut the tuna in bite-size chunks
  • When the water starts boiling, turn off, wait two minutes and plunge the tuna into the hot water
  • After 90 seconds take them out using a slotted spoon and let them cool down

VINAIGRETTE:

Some people might say that strictly speaking this is not a vinaigrette as it doesn’t contain mustard, but I’m calling it that for everybody to understand. Simply mix all the ingredients together
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VEGETABLES:
I suppose that nobody needs to be told how to cut veggies; however, I will give you some tips in order to get a nice presentation. Also, the size of the vegetables will dictate the texture of your salad and how the flavours blend together, so it is not something to be overlooked.

Fennel: discard the outer leaves, cut in half, remove the root and then slice as thin as you can; wash thoroughly

Red onion: slice it as thin as you can

Cherry tomatoes: quarter them

Lettuce: I suggest Cos lettuce mainly because if it colour;
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However, Romain or gem lettuce can be used as well for this recipe.
Wash the lettuce and shred it using your hands, then drain it (a salad spinner is the best way to do it)

Carrots: peel the carrots using a vegetable peeler and then make stripes still using the peeler; discard the core as it’s tough and less tasty

Kalamata olives: you could use normal black olives but I find that Kalamata have more character. First, pit them using a Cherry pitter and then cut them in half
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 And these are all the ingredients you need:
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Now that all the preparation work is done, simply mix all the ingredients and the vinaigrette in a bowl and serve with fresh bread

Buon appetito!