Friday, June 26, 2015

Quinoa--Three Ways!

 Chilled Curried Cucumber Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa

Quinoa--Three Ways!
by Victoria Challancin

Sometimes I think it a shame that I love quinoa so much, as the cost for it in Mexico, for inexplicable reasons, is astronomical.  In the US, while visiting my son in California, I bought organic quinoa for $8.50 for 4 pounds.  Here in Mexico, I pay about the equivalent of US$10 per 400g or about US$12 per pound.  Sometimes it costs about $16 a pound--especially if red or black.  $12 to $16 per pound vs $2.13 per pound??? I feel gouged.  But I love it...and I continue to cook with it.

Here are three ways I have used quinoa in recent cooking classes I taught to Mexican cooks:  As a sprightly garnish for a chilled cucumber soup, as a salad with an interesting vinaigrette, and as a healthy filler for a raw chard wrap.  Each interesting.  Each healthy.  Each delicious.

Chilled Curried Cumbered Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa
This refreshing soup recipe, which I found in the latest June edition of Vegetarian Times, starts by sautéing a bit of garlic and ginger in olive oil before adding a touch of curry powder (I used Frontier brand Muchi Curry Powder, which is fantastic for those times when you don't have either the time or perhaps the inclination to make your own!) and cooking it until fragrant, a matter of seconds.  Then, basically everything for the soup is dumped into a blender and puréed.  Easy.  The quinoa garnish, which is so brightly flavored, is simply cooked quinoa mixed with olive oil, mint, parsley, lemon juice and zest.  Lovely.  

Recipe:  Chilled Curried Cucumber Soup with Lemon-Mint Quinoa
(Recipe from the Vegetarian Times Magazine, June 2015)

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling (this last is optional)
2 cloves garlic (2 teaspoons), minced or pressed
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt or plain yogurt (I used plain yogurt)
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt (again, I just used plain yogurt)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided, plus leaves or sprigs for garnish (I used a few snipped chives instead)
2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more, if necessary, divided (I did use a bit more for each use)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add garlic and ginger; sauté 1 minute, or until slightly softened.  Add curry powder, and sauté 15 to 30 seconds, or until fragrant.  Remove from heat.

Blend cucumbers, yogurt, sour cream, 3 tablespoons mint, 3 tablespoons parsley, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls.  Spoon 1/4 cup quinoa into middle of each bowl.  Garnish with parsley leaves, and drizzle lightly with oil.

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint, and Feta with a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette

While the quinoa looks a bit weird in this photo, the salad was a delight.  Fresh herbs, salty feta, tart-sweet dried cranberries, and quinoa--that delightfully crunchy miracle of Mother Nature, this salad is a winner.  Topping it with a tangy Sumac-infused vinaigrette makes it just perfect.  Next time I might add some toasted pine nuts as well, but that could be gilding the lily as this recipe lacks nothing just as written.  The original recipe by Jennifer Olvera from Serious Eats, called for dried cherries, which I would have liked even more, and pomegranate seeds, which are out of season here in Mexico.  But even tweaking it a wee bit, as I was forced to do, this is a salad for any time of the year.

Make sure not to over cook the quinoa.  Remove it from the heat source as soon as it has lost its bite, and allow it to rest a few minutes covered before fluffing it with a fork.  Also, serve at room temperature before adding the feta and dress it immediately before serving so as not to overwhelm the delicate grains of the cooked quinoa.

Recipe:  Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint, and Feta with a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette
                  (Slightly adapted from a recipe by Jennifer Olvera of

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fresh juice from 2 lemons
1 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad:
2 cups cooked, cooled quinoa
1/3 cup chopped dried tart cherries or cranberries
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

For the vinaigrette:  Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together in a small bowl, seasoning generously with salt and pepper.  Reserve.

For the salad:  Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Add vinaigrette a few tablespoons at a time and tossing between additions until salad is dressed.  Serve immediately at room temperature.

 Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries, Mint and Feta in a Lemon-Sumac Vinaigrette with a Damascene Hand of Fatima (see below for more details on this work)

Rainbow Chard Wraps with Quinoa and Hummus
To make these healthy, yet filling wraps, we shaved the thick stems of the chard leaves (these could be dunked into water just off the boil for 5 seconds if preferred), slathered on a chipotle-flavored hummus, added a layer of cooked quinoa (both for its texture and healthy properties), and topped it all with alfalfa sprouts, and julienned veggies such as jícama, carrots, cucumber, purple cabbage, and colored bell peppers.  Because we made a Parmesan-Basil Mayo to accompany another dish, we added that as well.  Easy, healthy, and versatile--you could make this with lettuce, collards, or other greens of choice, and fill it with whatever suits your mood!
Parting Shot:  Moroccan Damascene Work
This delicate Damascene work is based on a technique that is thousands of years old.  First, a pattern is etched into the piece (in this case a vessel, but above in a decorative Hand of Fatima), then metal wire is hammered into the etching by hand, creating an inlay.  I watched the artisan working on this in Fès in May when I lead my 11th small group there.

Interested in visiting Morocco (a cultural rather than culinary journey)?  Contact me for details of my October and April 2016 trips.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende,

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sabores San Miguel
Festival Gastronómico

Flavors of San Miguel--a Brief Glimpse of an  International Food Festival
by Victoria Challancin
San Miguel de Allende has it all:  Old World charm and modern conveniences, rich history with a thoroughly modern overlay, lively markets and modern super stores, taco stands and food stalls--and now international culinary events.  Yep, we have it all. 

To call this event a mere Food Festival sells it short.  Truly, it is an international gastronomical happening, with chefs flying in from as far away as London to showcase their skills at a star-studded evening of culinary magic.  And for those not lucky enough to participate in this evening of gustatory pleasure, there are one evening and two days of special activities in the local Juarez Park, which include live music, tastings (tequila, wine, mezcal, olive oil, cheeses, and so much more), demonstrations, and activities for kids.  Entry to the park events is free and the cost of the food is 25 pesos (approximately US$1.60) per item.

So much has been written about this event, that I won't bother adding to that, but I will try to give you a small glimpse of some of what the opening evening in the park had to offer.  

To read more and see more photos, visit Sabores San Miguel's Facebook page.
Glenn Griffin also wrote about the visiting international star chefs here.
And Susan York of CupcakesandCrablegs also wrote about the event here.

A Food Festival in the Park

What could be found under the beautiful draped tent in the park?

Purely Mexican Offerings...como no
 Chiles (Jalapeñons) Toreados

 A Taco Stand Menu

 Artesanal Mezcal Infusions

   A Cold Meat Salad called Salpicón  (see my recipe here)

 Taco Toppers
 A Quintessential Salsa Verde, made with tomatillos and serrano chiles
 Another salsa
Tortas (Sandwiches) and Tostadas (Crispy Tortillas)

Chocolate:  One of Mexico's gifts to the world--a cacao bean, cocoa nibs, and raw chocolate with local honey

My Very Own Guava Margarita
Something for the Health Conscious...
 A Sugarless Sweet Potato Brownie

Quinoa Salad with Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus drink)

 Libations...oh, many (and I haven't covered the beers--the glorious Mexican beers)
 Homemade, smoky Mezcal--the indigenous Zapotec people who make these only name them by the Nahuatl word of the plant it contains

A variety of cocktails...
Specialty margaritas, including this one made with fresh guavas

Meats...Mexico is a meat-loving country indeed

 Argentine-style grilled sausages

 Ribs, barbecue, and micheladas (the local name is chela)--see my recipe here

 Suckling Pig Hamburger --with grilled sweet potato

My own suckling pig hamburger, or slider, with a guava margarita

Could I pass up a Los Angeles-Style In n' Out Burger?  I think not!

Some International Fare...
 Locally-made prosciutto

 Cheeses from the divine Luna de Queso (yes, if this company goes public, I will buy stock)

Spanish tapas

Rice with squid ink and aioli on toasted bread

And Sweets...of course... lovely sweets
Lovely chocolates...
Chocolates with edible Frida Kahlos

And banana muffins with Diego Rivero, lest he be left out...
Hibiscus gelatin with cream cheese...

A large cream puff with strawberries and whipped cream (yes, I had one of these)

A lavender-scented dessert concoction...and yes, I took one of these home with me

 Parting Shot:  A Quirky Countertop

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun International Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende, México

©Victoria Challancin.   All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Yearly Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe--with a Recipe!

A Yearly Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe--with a Recipe!
by Victoria Challancin

I'm back!  I'll spare you the apologies, the whinging, the explanations, but I do hope I have returned to the world of blogging after a lengthy absence.  Happily so!

Many of my readers know that I lead small groups to Morocco each year.  Some of you might ask exactly "why?"  I posted a simple explanation, yet in my eyes, a perfect explanation, in a sort of photo essay in 2010 and I don't think I can improve on the sentiments I expressed there.

Why Visit Morocco--please check it out and see if helps you understand my love of this culture, country, and its wonderful people.

Although my tours are not culinary tours, as a part of our itinerary on the trips I lead, we take a cooking class at the spectacular luxury riad (really, this is a boutique hotel) La Maison Arabe, which offers its cooking workshops in private gardens just fifteen minutes outside of Marrakech.  Complete with an organic kitchen garden, an outdoor wood-fired bread oven, and a thoroughly modern cooking school which has 16 individual work stations--each equipped with a closed-circuit screen, the hotel has created a perfect cooking school.  And yes, I admit to being just a tad envious... From the comfort of his or her own station, the participants can watch the dada, or traditional Moroccan family cook, who might be descended from Sub-Saharan slaves or who at least holds a place of respect as the family cook, as she leads us at a brisk pace through our cooking journey.

The Physical Space

Terra cotta tajines used to prepare individual portions and an array of the most common spices used in Moroccan cooking

Two adjacent cooking stations with plastic-covered chicken ready to be prepared

Older Posts on Moroccan Cooking
Cooking at the Kasbah:  A Cooking Class at La Maison Arabe (the original cooking school)

Olives, Preserved Lemons, and a Moroccan Tagine--plus a terrific recipe for a Chicken Tagine with Green Olives

On a Moroccan Table--general info about Moroccan food

The Food and Our Menu

Here we participate in the making of a bread called tanourt, or tannour, baked in an oven also called a tannour (probably from  the Hindi "tandoor").  After we prepare it, we are shown how to make traditional Moroccan mint tea.  And of course, we blissfully eat the warm bread with olive oil, argan oil, and amlou, a delicious Moroccan dip made from toasted almonds, argan oil, and honey.  Unfortunately, most of my photos of this were mysteriously deleted (along with 1500 others) from my camera when I tried to put them on my desktop Mac.  Argh...

I always proudly write my name on the name tag in my child-like Arabic, which always elicits a smile from the locals--and not a small amount of surprise

Our main dish, individually prepared:  Tagine M'darble 

Our main dish with two side salads:  Tatouka and Zalouk

This particular dish is rich, with an unctuous sauce sizzling with gentle spices plus the depth of the caramelized onions.  And it is really, really simple to prepare.  One of the things that fascinates me about much of Moroccan cooking that you often don't sauté the chicken or meats at all; rather they are braised in a simple water-based sauce redolent with simple spices.  This technique couldn't be easier!

Recipe:  Tagine M'darble
(Recipe from La Maison Arabe's cookbook, Moroccan Cooking:   Our Dadas' Recipes)

For the chicken:
500g/1lb chicken pieces (boneless breasts or legs/thighs with bones)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of saffron threads

For the Caramelized Tomatoes:
2 kg (4.5 lbs) tomatoes
1 lb/500g white sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

Garnish:  Toasted sesame seeds

To prepare the chicken:  
Drizzle the olive and vegetable oil in a tagine, casserole, or large heavy pot.  Add the chicken, the spices for the chicken, and 1/4 cup of water.  Mix well

Add the finely chopped onion to the pot.  Cover the pot and cook the chicken on low heat for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken over from time to time and add a bit of water if necessary.

Add 1/2 cup cold water and the bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro.   Cover, increase the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.  Cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender.  Check from time to time and add water if the dish seems too dry.  There should always be a cup of sauce in the pan.

Once the chicken is done, uncover the pot, and continue cooking for a few minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.

Note:  before serving, remove and discard the bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro

To prepare the tomatoes:
Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds.  Grate the tomatoes on a box grater  and discard the skin.  Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan.  On low heat, cook the tomatoes, covered, for 15 minutes.  

Add the vegetable oil, sugar, cinnamon, and salt to the tomatoes.  Mix well.

Cook uncovered on low heat until the tomatoes become caramelized and thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Stir from time to time.

To serve:  Place the chicken on a dish (or leave it in a tagine, if using), top with some of the sauce from the chicken, Add a dollop of the caramelized tomatoes, and finish by sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds.

Replace the tomatoes with pumpkin.  Wrap the pumpkin pieces with plastic wrap and microwave them for 15 minutes or until they become soft.  Caramelize the pumpkin following the same directions as for the tomatoes.

The wine tasting is optional, but I ask you:  Would I miss that???? Moroccan wines are phenomenal.  

Although we students didn't actually prepare this dessert of millefeulle with pastry cream, orange blossom water, almonds, and a phyllo-type dough, we happily enjoyed it.  The recipe calls it "Milk Pastilla"

Note:  As I come kicking and screaming into the world of social media, I am happy to say that many of my photos from this trip can be seen on Instagram (vchallancin) or my new Flavors of the Sun Facebook page...a work in progress as I learn the ropes!

My Tours to Morocco:
Come join me for my 16-day tour of Morocco in October or next April!  (The next tour will be my twelfth to lead there!)

Parting Shot:  
A sideways photo of favorite tagines in the souk, too heavy to bring home

Victoria Challancin

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Tours
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.