The Best Quinoa-Related Thing That’s Happened to Me in Awhile

One day, I hope to be the kind of blogger who makes up her own recipes, tests them several times, and perfects them before sharing. Obviously, I’m not there yet. (Case in point:  turnips au gratin.)

Sign of an amateur chef: soupy turnips au gratin appearing on my blog with nothing but my hope and good intentions of perfecting them one day.

But for now, alas, I’m just a lowly amateur, and that means that I usually use other people’s recipes, particularly ones I find online. This weekend, my girlfriend found the following recipe for Scallops with Citrus and Quinoa.

Let me take a moment to sing the praises of quinoa. I first encountered it when my friend, Emily Louise, made a quinoa dish with butternut squash, bacon, and parmesan cheese. It was so homey, so delicious. I’ve made it many times since then.

Quinoa is a grain that cooks up much the same as rice. It is considered a complete protein (with the most protein of any grain) and is called the Mother Grain. Cooked at a 1:2 ratio (1 part quinoa to 2 parts water), quiona is also insanely easy to prepare. I have friends who use it with tabouli salad, summer salsa, butternut squash (above), or just as a side dish, a replacement to more heavily starchy pasta or rice.

Knowing my love of quinoa, Amanda found a recipe that mixed many of my favorite things into one dish:  quinoa, citrus, and scallops.

Rather than sear the scallops in a pan, she put them on the grill, which of course gave them a lovely smoky flavor. Meanwhile, I cooked up the quinoa and the citrus sauce, which involved me doing one of my favorite things:  cooking with sugar.

Cooking with Sugar:  A Story About Safety

When I was a teenager, I knew no bounds when it came to cooking. I’d make funnel cake, doughnuts, cookies, Thanksgiving dinner, eclairs, bagels, etc. You name it, I would attempt it. This is because, for me, cooking is just following instructions. If I didn’t know what a term meant, I looked it up. (Much easier now with the Internet on my phone. Back in the day, we had dial-up and I had to fight with my brother to make him let me use the computer for a minute to look up a word. Of course, I realize my mom will probably roll her eyes and say, “in my day, we had to look things up in books!”. Yes, yes. I know. I’m pampered.)

Point being, this philosophy about cooking bred a certain level of fearlessness in me. My dad gave me free reign over his kitchen, and I attempted anything that caught my fancy. One day, I watched Alton Brown’s Good Eats, and he made caramel from scratch. First he made little caramel webs with the translucent, amber caramel, and then he added cream to make a rich caramel sauce.

If you’ve never cooked with sugar, it’s important to note that sugar can mess you up. If you’re not careful, you could seriously burn yourself. I remember when the moment came to make the caramel sauce, I put an oven mit on (per Alton’s instructions) because I knew the caramel would bubble violently once the cream hit it. My dad stood behind me, watching, urging me to be careful. At the time, I’m sure I was annoyed. I likely thought that I cook all the time, there’s no danger. But just as predicted, that caramel bubbled up with such ferocity, it surprised even me. My poor father:  he was probably just counting down the seconds until I was covered in third degree burns and he would have to call my mom and explain that I was out of control in the kitchen.

The caramel came off just fine though, and I came out of it burn-free. I did have one minor hiccup because I didn’t know the difference between parchment paper and wax paper. Those little caramel cobwebs? Yeah, they go on parchment paper and then into the fridge to harden. I put them on wax paper. There was no getting them off the sheet. But the caramel sauce was rich and creamy and delicious, just as Alton promised. We ate it over ice cream.

Now, back to the quinoa. This recipe does call for cooking with sugar, but in a much lower stakes capacity, merely browning some sugar in the bottom of a skillet, just letting it caramelize and turn amber and bubbly. At that point, however, you will be adding liquid, several cups of sweet citrus juice and some apple cider vinegar. Be careful! Wear an oven mit that covers your hand, wrist, and forearm. If any of that sugar spatters, it won’t come off easily, and you could seriously burn yourself.

Scallops with Citrus and Quinoa

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well (if you buy yours at a grocery store in a box or bag, it’s already been rinsed and the outer, bitter shells removed, but an extra rinse can never hurt – they’ll just get wet anyway)

Kosher salt

3 oranges

4 tangerines (if you can’t find tangerines, as we couldn’t, mandarin oranges are a good substitute; you’re looking for a sweeter citrus fruit)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed (smell them before you crush them; they smell like Fruit Loops, right?)

2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 1/4 pound sea scallops, tough foot muscles removed (most grocery store scallops will already have removed them)

Freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Fresh parsley, chopped

Combine quinoa, two cups of water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the water is absorbed, 12-14 minutes. [Dana's note:  I simmered mine covered. Still turned out good.]

Meanwhile, grate 1 teaspoon orange zest, then juice all 3 oranges and the tangerines, collecting juice in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar in the bottom of a large skillet (use one with a higher rim to it), and cook over medium-high heat about five minutes, until the sugar turns dark amber. Remove from heat and whisk in (carefully) vinegar, juice, orange zest, and coriander. Return to medium heat and boil until thick, about eight minutes. [Dana's note:  I used medium-high heat, and boiled about ten minutes to get desired thickness.] Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Keep warm.

Season the scallops on one side with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the scallops seasoned-side down and sear until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook until golden on the other side, 2 to 3 more minutes.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and divide among plates. Top with the scallops, drizzle with the citrus sauce and sprinkle with the parsley.

Yummy, yummy quinoa with citrus sauce and grilled scallops, topped with fresh parsley from the herb garden.

This dish was simply fantastic. The quinoa was light and fluffy, the scallops were smoky and flavorful (since we grilled ours), and the sauce stole the show. Sweet and tangy, it reminded me of orange chicken, which gets me thinking that one day, I’ll fry up some chicken and use the orange sauce from this recipe to dip the chicken in. I like it when a sauce in one recipe works well in another.