Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quinoa with cabbage and ham


Ingredients:
A ham bone with ham bits attached
half a head of cabbage
1 cup of quinoa (KEEN-wah)
pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin



I wanted to try making quinoa, an increasingly popular (because it is healthy) grain, a first for me. And I had a few things in the fridge that I wanted to use up.

The day before, I bought a spiral sliced, bone-in ham on sale and baked it. I know, you technically don't have to, but it tastes so much better. I throw away the seasoning packet that comes with the ham. Sometimes I "doctor" it myself with brown sugar, mustard, etc., but this time I just baked it, let it cool, sliced it and made up packets for the fridge and freezer. It was a 9.5 pound ham, so I will be enjoying it for a while!

I can't stand to throw out the ham bone and the bits that always cling to it, so tonight I made ham stock by putting it in my cast-iron dutch oven and covering it with water to simmer for a couple of hours. This made about 7 cups of stock, and also made it easy to pull the ham bits off the bone. They still had oodles of flavor, so I decided to go ahead and use them If they hadn't, well, I could have dipped into my ham supply!

The obvious thing to do with ham stock and the little bits would be bean or lentil soup, which I also love. But I have also used it for couscous, so I thought, why not quinoa?

I also had half a head of cabbage still leftover from the Borscht project. Yes, it was still good, wrapped well and in the crisper. But it was time.

The box of quinoa I had, and various recipes online, warned that it is important to rinse the quinoa very thoroughly in cold water. Not just a quick rinse, but a good one -- apparently the outside of the grain contains a kind of soapy-tasting substance that you want to remove. Fortunately, I have a big sieve with a fairly fine mesh, which is important because the quinoa is tiny and would fall right through, say, a typical colander.

The ratio is 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa, so I used 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of quinoa, knowing that it would make a lot. But I was using a saucepan on the stove, and I've learned the hard way that it is hard to time smaller quantities of things like rice or oatmeal and get them cooked without scorching. If you use a rice cooker or the microwave -- follow the directions on the box -- you can probably make a lot less at a time. I'll try that next time.

So:
Put the liquid and quinoa in the pan, bring to a boil, turn down to simmer, cover and cook 10-15 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Taste. Because of the ham stock, I didn't add any seasonings. Using water or even chicken stock, I might have put in a little pepper and salt or something.

While the quinoa is simmering, slice the cabbage into ribbons. Put about half a cup of liquid -- I used ham stock again because I could -- in a big pot. I used the same one the ham stock had just come out of. (I still have a quart of ham stock in the fridge.)

Bring the liquid to a simmer and toss in the cabbage and the ham bits. Season. I used pepper and cumin. No salt -- ham stock takes care of that! Stir/toss gently for a couple of minutes, only until the cabbage is beginning to wilt. Smack the lid on, turn the heat off, and walk away.

Well, actually, it might be time to peek at the quinoa, if 10-12 minutes have passed. Mine took the full 15 minutes, and I'm sure it depends a bit on what pan you use and what you consider "simmer" to be. When the liquid is absorbed -- nothing puddling in the bottom of the pan -- turn it off.

Check the cabbage now. It should be softish but with a little bite left, sort of like in a stir-fry. Cabbage al dente, as it were.

Dish it up.

I like how this came out. The braised cabbage didn't stink up the whole house, either! That little bit of cumin gives it a little subtle flavor that I liked. I'm sure other seasonings would be interesting, too.

The quinoa itself has a mildly nutty flavor and I think it worked well with the ham. I think you would always want to combine it with some pretty flavorful ingredients to avoid too bland of a dish.

Oh, and I have about three servings left for the rest of the week. I might try freezing one, to see how the cabbage holds up.

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This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.