Thursday, April 23, 2009
Chicken, Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa: Guess what? I'm a grown up cook now.
This is the story of a girl. A girl who didn't used to try new recipes. A girl who would idly flip through her mother's cookbooks and the pages of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, pausing only to admire the pictures. She would read a recipe and think, "Hmm... that looks and sounds good," but then continue on her merry way, content to eat grilled cheese sandwiches with canned soup, chicken stir-fry, packaged tortellini, and frozen pizza for her weeknight dinners.
Then, one day last year, that girl started a food blog. She planned it to be mostly about the restaurants she visited, with occasional posts about food products and her standby, tried and true recipes like Chicken Marsala and peanut butter oatmeal, but then something terrible happened. The self proclaimed picky palated princess from the OC realized that she wasn't making as much as she did at her previous job. Her budget for extravagant multi-course meals at Osteria Mozza, Hatfield's and Fraiche was nearly nonexistent unless she dipped into her rapidly depleting savings. Or never bought a new skirt or dress from Anthropologie ever again.
Whatever was she to do? Despite her malnourished funds, she still maintained a taste for the exquisite, and a lust for flavorful meals that challenged her tongue and satisfied her demanding stomach. Plus, she had a food blog to worry about! If she couldn't write about restaurants, she would have to come up with something else to say!
It was at this critical juncture that this girl decided it was time to get creative in the kitchen. No longer would she turn the other cheek at recipes that called for ingredients she didn't normally purchase. No longer would she read a food magazine without tagging pages to come back to later. And no longer would she subsist on meals originating from boxes or cans! She was going to cook, gosh darn it! Cook until her arms were scarred with burn marks and her fingers scarred with cuts!
I originally saw this recipe for black bean and tomato quinoa in the July 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine. I had just started using quinoa as a sometimes replacement for a side of brown rice in my stir-fries and ho-hum baked chicken dishes, and was intrigued by the idea of trying it as a base for a salad. Of course, because I was still in the packaged tortellini stage, I didn't even bother to clip the recipe out. When was I ever going to buy a big bunch of cilantro? I bookmarked the recipe in my mind (my memory does not allow me to forget about food very easily), but had no intention to make it in the near or immediate future.
Earlier this week, as the temperatures in Southern California climbed far beyond the standard 73 degrees I've come to expect from the territory, I began scouring my favorite food blogs and sites for recipes that did not make me want to crawl out of my skin and die from heat overload. My first stop (as usual) was Esi's Dishing Up Delights. Her recipes are always accessible, and because she is also typically cooking for just one, I don't have to worry about recalculating proportions and nixing ingredients that just don't work for the single diner. Since I had quite a bit of quinoa on hand and have been wanting to try a quinoa salad, I did a search for quinoa on her blog. At the bottom of the results page was the recipe for the black bean and tomato quinoa I had lusted over nearly two years ago. It felt like a sign.
I took on the recipe this past Tuesday evening, improvising a bit to make it into a full entree. I added pieces of chicken that I briefly marinated in red wine vinegar and lime juice, I mixed red pepper pieces in with the quinoa to give the dish a bit more veg, and I topped the affair with some feta cheese. I also cooked the quinoa in chicken broth for additional flavor, and played around with the dressing some -- reducing the amount of olive oil and replacing it with a bit more lime juice and some red wine vinegar. The end result was a deliciously palate-pleasing dinner that tasted perfect on the hot night, and equally swoon-worthy last night when I heated it up and served it warm.
The recipe is in many ways a symbol of how much I've grown in the past two years. Not only as a cook, but also as an eater. I think this is part of why I knew I had to make the recipe when I came across it on Esi's blog on Tuesday. I wanted to prove to myself that I have come a long way from the days of plain provolone grilled cheese sandwiches and Amy's chunky tomato soup. I'm not the girl who is afraid of new recipes any more. I'm the girl who can't wait to try new recipes.
Chicken, Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Loosely adapted from Esi's adaptation of Epicurious' recipe
Makes 2 entree-sized portions
2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 red pepper, diced
Zest of 1/2 lime (approximately 1 teaspoon)
Juice of 2 limes (approximately 2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt, pepper to taste
Whisk together lime zest, 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.
Use remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon olive oil as a marinade for the chicken. Salt and peper to taste. Let marinate for approximately 15 minutes. Cook in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat until cooked through.
Meanwhile, prepare quinoa according to package instructions with 1 cup chicken broth. Approximately five minutes before done, add the red pepper. When the broth has been absorbed and the white shells have separated from the kernals, fluff the quinoa with a fork, remove from the heat, and add the black beans, tomatos, scallions, cilantro, and chicken. Pour dressing over the mixture and toss until coated well. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with optional feta cheese.