I first ate this dish at Rakel Berenbaum’s house last Tu Beshvat. Rakel Berenbaum is the author of Portion on the Portion, for Torah Tidbits and a highly acclaimed cook and torah scholar. The platter that she served was gorgeous, delicious, and a conversation piece as well.
While I based my platter on her idea, I decided to do it a little bit differently. Rakel made her dish with white rice, reflecting upon the whiteness of the manna. I chose to make my dish with quinoa instead. If we were to follow the theme in Rakel’s dvar torah, we can say that the quinoa reflects the nutritional aspect of the manna.
Just as the manna supplied the Jewish people with all their nutritional needs in the desert, so quinoa can supply us with almost all of our nutritional needs today. Quinoa was referred to as the “mother grain” by the Incas due to the fact that it is so high in nutrients. Quinoa has the highest protein content of all the grains, it has more calcium than milk and it a is a good source of iron, phosphorous, B vitamins and vitamin E.
Rice is sticky and is known for holding it’s shape. In order for the quinoa to do this I needed to use ground flax seed. Flax seed works similarly to egg in that it can bind foods together and it really does work almost as well as the egg does. It is also a much healthier alternative, cleansing the intestines and lowering the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
Additionally, I cooked the quinoa together with spices. Some people tell me that they do not like quinoa, often it is because they are not preparing it properly. Here are a few tips to help improve the flavor of the quinoa.
- Always rinse the quinoa before cooking to remove the bitter coating on the outside.
- Remove the pot from the flame before the water is completely absorbed–if you wait until the water is all absorbed you will burn your pot. Shut the flame when you see the holes made by the steam but there is still a drop of water at the bottom.
- Quinoa doesn’t absorb flavor or liquid after it has been cooked. If you want your quinoa to taste like something other than plain quinoa then add the desired flavors to the cooking water.
The recipe below contains a variety of flavors and spices. The reason why I use such of large variety of spices in this dish is to help offset all the dried fruits and nuts. Fruits are sweet in flavor and nuts are oily. Sweet and oily foods cause expansion and dampness (mucus) and prevent our bodies from functioning at their maximum.
Oily foods cause our energy levels to drop (slowing down and relaxing) and sweet foods induce weight gain. In order to balance the fruits and nuts, and to help our bodies to better digest these foods, I use a combination of warming, pungent, and bitter spices. These spices not only add another dimension to the flavor of the food, they also help our digestive systems to work better.
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1″ ginger, minced
- 1 fennel, chopped
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp ground flax seed
- 2 tbsp pistachio seeds
- 5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
- salt and pepper
- Variety of dried fruit, including: pineapple, apricots, prunes, craisins, figs, dates, etc.
- pumpkin seeds
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan. Sweat the onion, fennel and spices for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft. Rinse the quinoa in a colander and add to the pot along with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, lower the flame and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed. Remove from the flame and allow it to stand for 5 more minutes, until the water is completely absorbed.
Choose a bowl that will be completely filled by the quinoa. Brush the sides of the bowl with olive oil.
Place a dried pineapple at the bottom of the bowl and press down. Stick dried apricots in a circle around the pineapple. Put the quinoa in the bowl up to the level of the apricots and press down.
Stick a row of prunes and craisins around the bowl, cover with quinoa and press down.
Repeat the process. layering different colored fruits, (figs, dates, etc.) and pressing down on the quinoa, until the bowl is full.
Boil a cup of water in a pot. Carefully insert the bowl into the pot. Cover the pot and steam for 45 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pot and invert it onto a platter. The fruit should stick to the quinoa and you should have a beautifully decorated dome. Garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve immediately.
Sima Herzfeld Navon is a Nutritional Healer and teaches Healthy Cooking Classes.