I have a culinary confession to make: I've been a little intimidated by quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa).
Oh, I've seen it on the grocery store shelves, right there by the other funky grains, and brought it home to sit on my shelf. I've seen the rock star TV chefs make funny-looking pilafs with it; I even tried a bite or two of quinoa stuffing at a fancy restaurant a month or so ago. But I haven't had the courage to actually cook with it.
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So when the calendar turned to a new year, I made myself get the stuff out and cook a straight batch of it. I figure you can't know how to use it until you've tasted it in its purest form.
To my great surprise, it wasn't strange at all. In fact, plain, cooked quinoa has a wonderful nutty flavor and an interesting texture akin to a cross between bulgur and al dente Israeli couscous.
I immediately thought of salad, which I had promised to eat more of this year anyway. Since really good, fresh veggies are harder to come by in the winter, mixing a bit of dried fruit and grain into your salad just makes sense. I had dried cranberries left over from the holidays, and lemon and parsley are always in my fridge, so a tabbouleh-style salad was easy to throw together.
You can substitute any dried fruit you may have on hand: apricots, raisins, cherries or a mixture of all of the above. The sweet punch is a perfect foil to the bright lemon dressing and bite of the parsley. I was surprised how filling the salad is, just by itself. But it makes a fine side salad as well. My culinary fear was conquered. And now I have a brilliant new salad to add to the mix. Enjoy!
Suggested menu: Lemony Quinoa Salad With Cranberries with grilled flatbread with hummus and hot tea.
• Alicia Ross is the co-author of "Desperation Dinners!" and related books. Write her at Kitchen Scoop, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More at the Kitchen Scoop website, kitchenscoop.com.