Quinoa leaps onto your seder table with three savory dishes

Quinoa leaps onto your seder table with three savory dishes

By Mollie Katzen, JNS.org

Vegetarians, and especially vegans, need some high-protein plant food with a bit of heft to keep them going during Passover, especially if observing the Ashkanazic tradition that forbids eating kitniyot — a category that includes legumes, most grains, and some seeds. Meat eaters also might want to break the monotony of potatoes and matzoh in their carbohydrate options.

Enter quinoa — the tiny, ancient, highly nutritious grain originally from Peru — to address the need. In December 2013, the Orthodox Union announced that quinoa will now be certified as kosher for Passover. Quinoa is delicious, texturally interesting, and compatible with enough other ingredients to give it a wonderful range on your Passover seder table. Here are three savory quinoa dishes that celebrate not only Passover itself, but the spring season in general. For all three recipes, use the following directions to cook 1 cup of quinoa:

Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer, cover, and cook (with a heat diffuser, if available, inserted underneath) until the grains are tender — 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork to let steam escape. Set aside.


Quinoa Pilaf with Asparagus and Leeks

Quinoa pilaf with asparagus and leeks in a portobello mushroom. Photo: Mollie Katzen

Quinoa pilaf with asparagus and leeks in a portobello mushroom. Photo: Mollie Katzen

Enjoy this springy pilaf plain as a side dish, or heap it into grilled portobello mushrooms for more of an entrée. It’s cheerful, easy, and delicious. The pilaf keeps well in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to five days and reheats easily in a microwave or on the stovetop. Same with the mushrooms. The best way to clean leeks is to cut them first (in this case, very thin circles) and then submerge them in a bowl of cold water. Swish them around, then lift them out and into a colander. Change the water and repeat, then spin and/or pat dry.

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1-1/2 cups water

1 Tbs. olive oil (plus extra to taste)

1 heaping cup very thin leek rings (1 medium leek), cleaned and dried

1 tsp. minced or crushed garlic

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper

4 oz. feta cheese, diced

Six 4-inch Portobello mushrooms, prepared for stuffing (optional)

Boil the quinoa. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute, then add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the leek rings, and sauté for about 5 minutes. When the leek is very soft, add the garlic, asparagus, and 1/4 tsp. of the salt, and cook, stirring often, until the asparagus is just tender, about 5 minutes, depending upon thickness.

Fork in the cooked, fluffed quinoa, and stir to combine, adding the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and a generous amount of black pepper as you go. Stir in the feta as well. If the mixture seems dry, you can drizzle in a little extra olive oil.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms directions:

Here is a way of cooking portobellos that greatly firms them up and condenses their flavor, getting them ready to stuff — or to simply enjoy plain.

Remove the mushroom stems, and wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel. Place a heavy skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add a little olive oil, wait about 30 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan. Place the mushrooms cap-side down in the hot oil, and let them cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes. Turn them over and cook on the other side for 10 minutes, then flip them over one more time, to cook for about 5-10 more minutes on their cap side once again.

Yield: 6.


Green Onion-Quinoa Cakes

Green onion-quinoa cakes.

Green onion-quinoa cakes.

These appealing and tasty disks are crisp on the outside and fork-tender throughout. They’re wonderful as a breakfast or brunch entrée, topped with salsa or with strips of roasted red pepper (okay to use some from a jar, for convenience, if it complies with your kashrut). This is also a fun side dish or appetizer. You can make the batter and even form the cakes up to two days ahead of time, and store it covered in the refrigerator. No need to bring it to room temperature before frying.

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1-1/2 cups water

4 scallions, very finely minced (whites and reasonable greens)

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper

2 large eggs, beaten

Butter for the pan

Nonstick spray

Boil the quinoa. Add the scallions, salt, pepper, and beaten eggs, and stir well to combine. (It’s fine if the quinoa is still hot.) Meanwhile, melt some butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low, and swirl to coat the pan. Lightly spray a 1/4-cup measure (ideally one with a handle) with nonstick spray, and use it to scoop the batter, evening off the top with a knife, to form neat cakes. Shake the formed batter into the pan, and cook on both sides until golden and crisp. Depending on your pan and your stove, this will take approximately 5 minutes (or perhaps a little longer) per side. Serve hot or warm.

Yield: 4-5 (about 10 cakes) using 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter.


Speckled Quinoa Salad

Fluffy quinoa combines beautifully with an assortment of colorful vegetables, apples, currants, and almonds to make a bright lunch salad, laced with olive oil, lemon, and honey. The contrasting textures are fun and refreshing — and the palette becomes even more interesting if you use red quinoa. Roasted almond oil can swap in for some or all of the olive oil. You can add more vegetables, if you like. The amounts and type are flexible.

1 cup quinoa

1-1/2 cups water

1 to 2 finely minced scallions (whites and reasonable greens)

A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely minced

1/2 medium-sized apple, chopped small

1 medium-sized carrot, minced

1/2 medium-sized red bell pepper, minced

A handful of currants

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. light-colored honey

A handful of almonds, chopped and lightly toasted


Sliced or minced radishes

Finely minced red onion

Finely minced celery and/or fennel bulb

Boil the quinoa, cool, and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add the vegetables and currants, and stir to combine, sprinkling with the salt as you go. In a separate small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and honey, and whisk to blend. Pour this into the quinoa and vegetables, mixing to thoroughly combine. Serve at room temperature, or cover, chill, and serve cold. Stir in the almonds shortly before serving.

Yield: 5 or more.


Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” Her most recent book is “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013).