The national mood shifted over the weekend as swiftly as a weather front from gloom in lockdown to hope of a gradual return to public life. A nagging question remains: will wearing a mask and observing social distancing be enough protection from a potent virus? With facts changing every day in the news, my response is to become more proactive in the kitchen.
In short, my comfort zone now includes nutrient-rich foods. Michael Pollan is my coach, and I faithfully follow his basic rule to eat fresh food, not too much and mostly plants. When tempted to stray, the immortal words of French food philosopher, Brillat-Savarin, ‘you are what you eat’, remind me that a strong immune system is my first line of defense against the enemy.
Brillat-Savarin’s late 19th century diet appears rarefied by today’s standards. but it was remarkably disciplined. He ate few carbs, avoided sugar and advocated for vegetables and fruits. His idea of an omelet filling is a combination of carp roe and fresh tuna. He would have been amazed to see me replace rich seafood with quinoa seeds in the frittata I prepared last weekend.
Quinoa is one of today’s ‘superfoods’, a marketing term that is synonymous with nutritional density. Quinoa has the distinction of containing all nine amino acids that make up the essential building blocks of protein as well as high levels of iron, potassium and fiber. This tiny seed has sustained indigenous people living along the spine of the Andes in Bolivia, Peru and Chile for 7,000 years. Spanish invaders replaced quinoa with rice and wheat crops in the 16th century. It was rediscovered in the middle of the last century and its cultivation has since spread around the world.
Be sure to rinse off quinoa seeds before cooking to remove a natural, bitter coating designed to discourage bugs and birds in the wild. Quinoa cooks in 15 minutes in twice its volume of water doubling in volume as it cooks. Seeds are available in a variety of colors, from white to red, yellow and black. The seeds crack during cooking to produce a small curled white tail. They pop in the mouth when you bite down releasing a satisfying earthy aroma.
QUINOA AND ASPARAGUS FRITTATA
Ingredients for 4 servings:
1/2 cup red quinoa
8 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, white portion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
10 asparagus stalks, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
1/4 cup water
1 cup baby spinach leaves, tightly packed
1/4 cup grated romano cheese
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Rinse the quinoa under cold running water. Simmer it in 1 cup water until it is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water, and reserve. Beat the eggs with the salt and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Mix in the feta cheese pieces and mustard. Reserve.
Select an ovenproof, non-stick skillet to heat the olive oil in and soften the onion and leek pieces over medium low heat. Stir in the garlic and cook an additional minute. Add the asparagus pieces, the water, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the spinach over the surface. Cook until it has wilted and any remaining water in the skillet has evaporated. Stir the quinoa into the egg mixture and pour it over the leek and asparagus mixture. Shake the pan to help distribute the eggs evenly. Cook for 2 -3 minutes, run a spatula around the edge of the skillet to release the edges. When the bottom of the omelet is browned, sprinkle on the grated cheese and place the skillet in the oven 4" below the broiler. Remove when the surface is set and lightly browned. Scatter on the parsley and serve immediately.