We have a saying in arabic that literally translate to
“The splendor is for the rice and the burghul hanged himself”
Michelle and I were having a conversation about quinoa and how it is replacing the traditional grains we, as middle eastern and Levantine in specific, are used to. Then she mentioned the above proverb replacing rice for quinoa and burghul for rice to emphasize on how quinoa is the IT grain people are going crazy for. It is true. Restaurants and food caterers began serving quinoa tabbouleh, sushi places have replaced sushi rice with quinoa and black rice, and I’m sure quinoa has been snuck in vegetable stuffing and in the the rolled vine leaves somewhere. A recent popular joke speaks of a very prestigious neighborhood in Beirut where the residents stopped sprinkling rice grains on a couple on their way to be wedded and replaced it with throwing quinoa instead.
For me, I use quinoa as an added grain. The only place where I am using quinoa in the place of a traditional grain, is in planting some seeds in prep for Christmas. This is an old tradition we inherited from our ancestors. Families plant chickpeas, lentils, and wheat grains in small pots or plates layered with cotton balls on the beginning of December before St. Barbara’s Day. Once they grow, the sprouting plates are arranged around the nativity crib as decoration and symbol of life. As for me, I like to poke fun of things and be a bit sarcastic. I planted some quinoa in dirt and water and left them, with no expectations, to see if they sprout. And they did. Tiny sprouts emerging from the little white shells. The progress is slow, but I am waiting for it. The other grains I planted are sprouting well; lentils and black and green mung beans. The whole shelled rice grains haven’t sprouted yet, but the bok choy seeds harvested last season from the stem which I planted into the soil after a delicious bowl of ramen are starting to come back to life. I will also be planting some wheat and chickpeas to enrich the collection of living microgreens.
Back to quinoa!
Last week, I cooked a test run for a delicious hearty salad, full of so many nutrients and flavors, all from seasonal produce, the way I always do things, before the day I was cooking in Mar Mikhael during the car-free day. The salad constituted of a mix of quinoa and amaranth, a good portion of greens, rocket leaves and wild dandelion, roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes in zaatar and cauliflower in sumac and olive oil-coated carrots, a handful of ruby red pomegranate seeds, and drizzle of sour grape juice and olive oil. Have a big bowl of that and call it lunch, or serve it as a side to some grilled proteins and pretend to be healthy for a day.
Note: in some of the pictures, I used frizzy lettuce and no chickpeas, while in others I used the dandelion rocket leaves mix with chickpeas, and feta. Feel free to adjust this salad to your liking.
Lebanese Roasted Vegetables with Quinoa, Amaranth, and Mixed Greens
- 3/4 cup quinoa
- 3/4 cup amaranth (or more quinoa if you want)
- 1 can cooked chickpeas (or soak the night before and cook until done if making a big batch)
- 1/2 head cauliflower
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 5-6 small carrots
- 1 cup olive oil (approximation)
- 3 tbsp zaatar (either pure ground zaatar or zaatar mix, with sumac and sesame)
- 2 tbsp sumac
- 1 bunch rocket leaves
- 1/2 bunch wild dandelion (our bunches are big here)
- Pomegranate seeds from one quarter, more to taste
- Crumbled Feta cheese (optional)
- 1/4 cup sour grape juice (common in middle eastern pantry) or apple vinegar
- Prepare your ingredients: If using dried chickpeas, soak overnight and cook until done. Wash and dry the greens, scrub the carrots well (I don’t like peeling carrots), dice the sweet potatoes, and cut the cauliflower into small florets.
- In a bowl, mix the carrots with 3 tbsp olive oil and some salt. Place in a roasting tray and into a 180ºc oven. Start with the carrots since they take more time than the rest. In the same bowl, add the cauliflower and toss to coat with 3 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp sumac. Toss and coat the sweet potatoes with 3 tbsp olive oil and 3 tbsp zaatar and add to the roasting tray. Roast until tender and cooked to your desired level, 20-30 minutes.
- In the meantime, place the quinoa and amaranth with a sprinkle of salt in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for around 20 minutes until done. Remove from heat, drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil and fluff with a fork.
- In a small bowl, place the sour grape juice or vinegar. Slowly drizzle the remaining olive oil (add more if desired) and whilst vigorously to mix. Set aside to drizzle over the salad
- Roughly chop the greens and put in the serving plate. Top with the grains, chickpeas, roasted vegetables, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese (if you want) and drizzle the dressing. Best served when the grains and vegetables are still warm