Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quinoa-stuffed peppers

I was never a fan of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) because it always tasted a little weird to me; however, I have at last discovered that proper preparation takes care of this problem and makes quinoa absolutely delicious!

Quinoa is one of those whole grains that's considered to be really healthy by modern health-nuts (of which I am NOT one). I do not ascribe to the current brand of health-fanaticism which claims we should eat tons of whole grains all the time; this type of diet would simply be too carb-heavy for most of us humans. I think foods should be prized for their long-standing tradition, for their flavors, and also for their nourishing benefits, not simply because they are a whole grain, per se, and therefore high in dietary fiber. There is more to health than this, but enough said for now.

In some traditional cultures quinoa was prized for its health benefits, and has even enjoyed galactogogue status in South America for a very long time (a galactogogue is a food thought to increase the supply of breast milk). Interestingly enough, however, in Peru, where quinoa is an important traditional grain among the Incas and Indians, it is considered toxic if not rinsed and soaked properly. This is a truth that we find repeated over and over in many cultures: foods are beneficial to our bodies not only because of their intrinsic nature, but more importantly because of how they are prepared. Of course, proper preparation also improves the flavor and our enjoyment when eating these "healthy" foods! So you must soak the quinoa ahead of when you want to make this dish. It will take about an hour or so to prepare everything, but unless you are feeding a large family there will be plenty of leftovers which heat up beautifully in a warm oven. You may also, of course, add some type of ground meat or increase the amount of cheese to make this dish even heartier. *Special tip: if you're making bone broth (stock) during the week preceding making the peppers, you can save the cooked veggies from the stock and use them in this recipe! Carrots and celery are great re-used in this way.*

You will need:
-2 cloves garlic
-olive oil
-1 medium onion
-2-3 large carrots
-2 stalks celery
-1 large tomato
-3 cups broth (preferably homemade)
-2 cups cooked beans
-2 cups organic quinoa
-6-8 medium bell peppers
-1 cup grated raw-milk hard cheese (plus a little extra to melt on top)
-1 tbsp. cumin

To start, rinse 2 cups organic quinoa to remove the saponins (a soap-like natural pesticide). Then soak in a big bowl with plenty of water and 4 tbsp. liquid whey or lemon juice. Keep the bowl in a warm spot covered with plastic wrap for up to a week (I soak quinoa between 2-5 days); it needs at least 8 hours, but I find that longer makes it taste better. Never mind if a white surface forms on the water, or if it looks or smells weird. It's fine, just busy doing its job of breaking down the anti-nutrients in the quinoa by means of beneficial bacteria & enzymes.

Next, prepare the peppers by slicing lengthwise down the center and scraping out the seeds (you can leave the stems for a nice touch). Set aside.

In a large pot, saute a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a chopped onion in at least 3 tbsp. olive oil (extra-virgin). Then add one chopped tomato, 2 diced carrots (cooked or raw), 2 stalks chopped celery, 2 cups cooked black beans (more if desired, any kind will do), 1 tbsp. cumin, and 3 cups chicken stock or broth (or a combination of water & broth). You will need to thoroughly rinse the quinoa and add it at this time, then simmer covered until everything is soft, most of the liquid is evaporated, and the flavors are blended (about 20 minutes). Adjust seasonings to taste, remove from heat, and stir in most of the cheese. Fill the peppers and place in an oiled oven-proof casserole dish; you can mound the rest of the filling in around them. Add about 1/4" of liquid to the bottom (cooking liquid, or broth, or water), dot the peppers all over with plenty of butter, and sprinkle the tops of the peppers with cheese. Bake covered for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. At the end, remove the lid and allow the peppers to bake about 10 minutes longer, until the tops are brown and melty.

I think these alternative-style stuffed peppers are absolutely delicious, but with one caveat: the first time I made them I followed the recipe pretty exactly (it's from the Feb. 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times), and after eating a large serving I felt weirdly hungry. I just wasn't satisfied. This time I added lots of butter, and the peppers were much more satisfying. I find that meals without much saturated fat are simply not satisfying for me, and I suspect this holds true for many other Americans. As people in this country have cut out a lot of the high-quality saturated fat in their diets over the past 30 years they have instead replaced them with lots of sugar. How often do you feel unsatisfied after a meal and reach for something sweet? You might try adding more saturated fat from grass-fed animals or coconuts (butter, lard, eggs, coconut meat & oil) and see if you notice a difference in your satiety level and if you enjoy a more satisfying flavor experience.

Bon appetit!

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