Meatless Monday: Cumin-scented quinoa with beets and curried chickpeas

Curried chickpeas go very nicely with the nutty, beet-sweetened quinoa. Top it off with a spoonful of yogurt or raita.

The Garden of Eating
Cumin-scented quinoa with beets topped with curried chickpeas and beet greens.

This was the first recipe I tried from Maria Speck's wonderful new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals last summer (congrats to Maria on all the wonderful press her book has gotten of late – it's richly deserved!). We brought a small tub of this brilliantly colored quinoa to a barbecue and it was such a hit with everyone that I've made it several times since then.

In addition to the gorgeous, ruby-like color, I was drawn by the idea of infusing the quinoa with cumin's exotic flavor and tempering it with the beets' intense sweetness. And I decided to take things one step further and use the beet greens in some quick curried chickpeas to add a little extra protein. Top the whole thing with some yogurt or raita and you're in business!

After conquering my unfounded initial dislike of it, quinoa has become one of my favorite grains. It's got a unique flavor – pleasantly nutty yet mild enough for versatility, and it cooks quickly. It's also one of those "super foods" that people love to blather on about (I won't bore you by talking about its superior nutritional qualities but, rest assured, it has them!)

Cumin is one of the backbones of Indian and Mexican food and I use it often – I love its pungent, slightly earthy flavor. This recipe calls for simmering the quinoa with whole cumin seeds to impart some of that nice flavor to the grain. Check the bulk section of your health food or grocery store to find it whole. It should be cheap.

Beets are another food that I had to conquer my distaste for but am now 100 percent sold on. I think that in this case, it was a matter of my taste buds finally maturing or something – how else can I account for my vehement dislike of their earthy flavor for nearly 30 years? But now I think beets are the bomb! Rich, beautiful and incredibly sweet. Plus, they're also sickeningly good for you - packed with nutrients and antioxidants. I'm always amazed by the brilliance of their color. I've come to love them raw – they're great in green salads, too. Crunchy and sweet!

Mix them with the quinoa and you get a simply breathtaking dish.

As for the chickpeas, these are quick and easy and mighty tasty. I washed the beet greens (no need to throw them away – they're also yummy and good for you.) Then removed the ribs to chop them up finely since they're tougher than the greens and cut the leaves into ribbons.Then I chopped up an onion and a bunch of garlic and sauteed them in some olive oil along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the onion was translucent, I added the beet stems followed a few minutes later by the greens. Tossed in some spices, a couple cans of Eden organic (and BPA-free) chickpeas and let it all meld together, seasoning with salt and pepper, and voilà – a savory, curried mess of garbanzos and greens.

The curried chickpeas go very nicely with the nutty, beet-sweetened quinoa. Top with a spoonful of yogurt or raita and you'll be glad if you've made enough to have leftovers – this dish only improves with a day or two's time to let the flavors deepen.

Just a quick note that Maria's recipe calls for sumac which I did not have – you can substitute some lemon juice as I've done if you can't find this ingredient. 

Cumin-Scented Quinoa With Beets Topped With Curried Chickpeas & Beet Greens
Adapted from Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
Serves 4-6 

For the quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups water
 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sumac or lemon juice
1-1/4 cups shredded raw beets (about 1 medium-sized beet, rinsed and peeled)
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

For the chickpeas:
2 tsp olive oil
30-ounce or two cans of rinsed, drained cooked chickpeas (if you're using canned, buy Eden organics as their cans are BPA-free)
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Beet greens from one bunch of beets, washed, ribs removed and chopped, leaves chopped into ribbons (if your beets did not come with their greens, you can substitute spinach or some chard or skip it altogether if you prefer)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons curry powder or garam masala
Sea salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste

For the topping:
Plain whole milk yogurt (or, if you're feeling up to it, stir in some diced cucumber, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper and thin it with a jot of milk to turn the plain yogurt into raita)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the cumin seeds (they will sizzle) and cook, stirring, until the seeds darken and become fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in the quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until hot to the touch, about 1 minute. Add the water, salt, and sumac (if you have it), and bring to a boil. Decrease the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile make the chickpeas. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and sautée for 2-3 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and sautée a few more minutes until it becomes fragrant. Add the chopped beet green stems, stir and sautée for 2 minutes. Throw in the beet greens and stir, sautéeing another 1-2 minutes. Add the chickpeas, curry powder or garam masala and any other spices you desire, season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cook for another 5 or so minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and let sit.

3. To finish, stir the shredded beets into the saucepan of quinoa, cover, and let steam for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the cayenne pepper. Taste, adjusting for salt and lemon juice, and serve topped with the curried chickpeas and the yogurt or raita.

Realted post: Lemon-Scented Quinoa With Tahini and Chickpeas

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