I’ve developed a bit of a…. reputation during the past year or so.
A nasty little nickname too.
It seems that people have come to associate me with a certain ancient grain that is actually a seed from a spinach-like plant that’s grown in South America.
It’s pronounced “keen-wha.”
And the people consider me to be the “Keen-wha” Queen.
Friends and family email me quinoa recipes on a weekly basis. If an article so much as hints at the nutritional powerhouse, they, as well as other acquaintances and only-sort-of-kind-of acquaintances, immediately seek me out to let me know of its existence.
“It's your Quinoa friend again! I saw this thread at Chowhound and thought you might like it. Lot's of recipe's.” Read an email from my cousin last week.
And then, yesterday, a Tweet from fellow Los Angeles blogger Valentina of Eastside Food Bites. “Someone's asking JGold about quinoa. Did you see? http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2011/04/ask_mr_gold_mo-chica.php.”
My heart leapt out of my chest like a proud parent watching their beloved child take center stage.
Jonathan Gold, the belly of Los Angeles, was talking about my quinoa?!
I couldn’t read the “Ask Mr. Gold” column fast enough. I devoured it whole, nodding in agreement as he explained to the poor, ignorant reader why quinoa is such a “big deal” – the health benefits, the fun of preparing it in a dry skillet, the pleasant “mild bounce” it has when well executed.
I beamed with excitement. This was even better than having quinoa featured in one of Squid Ink writer Noah Galuten’s “Food Fights,” or cast in a guest starring role on Josh Lurie’s “Food GPS” – “Vitamin Q” instead of “Vitamin P.”
But when I reached the final paragraph where Mr. Gold assesses his favorite quinoa dishes in the city – including two that I find quite good as well (Akasha’s and Fig’s), I was saddened to see that my favorite quinoa dish was noticeably absent.
"Where oh where was my Huckleberry friend?" I thought with distress.
While I imagine that Ricardo Zarate’s quinotto is undeniably delicious (one of my favorite preparations of quinoa is actually in a risotto that also contains shiitake mushrooms – plus he was just named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs), the quinoa dish that most excites me in LA is a bit more pure and simple.
To a quinoa-outsider’s eyes, Huckleberry Café’s quinoa, kale and butternut squash with two sunny side up eggs ($11.50) might appear like a big bowl of hippie health food. The kernels of quinoa are undressed, the vegetables are prepared with a minimalist’s hand – likely seasoned with simply good olive oil and salt, and the fried eggs are… well, fried eggs. What makes this dish so special, however, is that it pays respect to the grain in a way that I don’t often encounter in restaurants.
The quinoa is clearly rinsed well prior to cooking – there’s not a hint of residual bitterness from the saponin, a chemical compound that coats each seed – and the kernels are delicately heaped into a fluffy pile that indicates it hasn’t been overcooked or prepared with too much water. There’s a bit of a chew to the quinoa, as well, or, as Jonathan Gold might say, “a pleasant bounce.” It bites back, it asserts itself, and, most importantly, it has a presence that isn’t disguised or muddied by overly aggressive flavors or textures. Huckleberry’s quinoa is a work of art by itself, but when the runny yolk, sautéed kale, and roasted butternut squash come in to play, it truly becomes a symphony.
The quinoa is the perfect sponge for the runny yolk, and the sweet squash and earthy kale are the perfect accompaniments to fortify and complete the dish. It’s simple, hearty and healthy, yet somehow still soulful at the same time.
The beauty of this mainstay on Huckleberry’s breakfast and brunch menus is that it allows quinoa to take center stage. As the proud parent of that silly little grain that’s actually a seed, I’m happy to report that in this interpretation, it absolutely shines.
1014 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401