Danielle of Habeas Brulee is this month's host of The Spice is Right. The theme for this event is using a spice (or blend of spices) in a way that is atypical or unusual. I chose powdered cardamom, as I had quite a bit of it in my cabinet. Cardamom is the seed of a ginger-like plant. One site describes it as "pungent, warm and aromatic... Warm and eucalyptine with camphorous and lemony undertones." Eucalyptine might just be my new favorite word. Honestly, I had little idea of what cardamom tasted like. I had only used it in curries and baked goods - Dishes that have so many other strong flavors that I could not clearly distinguish cardamom from the others. I had bitten down on a cardamom pod now and then in basmati rice at an Indian restaurant, but it had overall been a neglected spice in my cooking (and eating) repertoire.
Sage, on the other hand, is a familiar and common ingredient in my cooking. I usually cook with fresh sage from my garden, but I chose powdered sage this time since my sage plant is getting sparse now that I cut its leaves off several times a week for use in the kitchen! I had an instinct that sage would be an unusual but subtly appropriate compliment to cardamom in a lightly-spiced grain dish inspired by the Indian biryanis I enjoy so much. I chose quinoa, which is a versatile, high-protein gluten-free grain with a very mild flavor.
The result was an enjoyable, aromatic quinoa pilaf with a wonderful texture. The problem is, it was missing some... oomph. I can't for the life of me tell you what the missing ingredient is that would propel this from "enjoyable" to "delicious." My friend and I discussed adding more salt, some cayenne pepper, or garlic powder. Ultimately, I decided to leave it alone to be exactly what it is: A satisfying, filling side dish that would be best accompanied with meat or vegetables in a more emphatically spiced sauce. If you try this recipe out, let me know if you find its missing oomph!
QUINOA PILAF WITH CARDAMOM & SAGE
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins
Heat olive oil in 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, and sautee until they begin to brown. Lower heat to medium and add garlic and carrots. Sautee for 1-2 minutes, then add quinoa, pepper, cardamom and sage. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes.
Add chicken stock and salt, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Gently stir in raisins, cover and allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Add lightly toasted pine nuts, fluff with a fork, and serve.