Last summer I experimented with toasting grains and then cooking them in milk. This gave the grains a pronounced nutty fragrance and flavor that I loved. Last week, with soy on the brain, as I was browning butter for a batch of fiveandspice’s Simply Raspberry Muffins, it occurred to me that if I toasted grains in butter, added miso and then cooked them in milk, the nutty quotient might increase. Increase it does, with a peanut buttery aroma and richness from the miso, creating a quinoa pilaf ready to be dressed. But how to dress it? Inspired by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Spicy Cucumber Salad, a recent Genius pick, which has you bruise the cucumbers, I decided to try grilling cucumbers. They are surprisingly delicious! Grilled cucumbers maintain their crunch, and to my palate, the flavor brings them closer to their squash counterparts, zucchini. I added eggplant for textural and flavor contrast and a salty, tangy soy dressing to tie it all together. It is equally delicious warm, room temperature or cold the next day. —gingerroot
Test Kitchen Notes
Thanks to gingerroot, I have found my go-to recipe for cooking quinoa. The result is a nutty, hearty, goodness that’s absolutely addictive. Pair this with a bright, salty, tangy dressing and you’ve got a great side or meal. And this dish lends itself to creativity, so you can have fun with the type of veggies—grilled or not—you choose to add. —figgypudding
4 to 6 as a side
For the Pilaf
large English cucumber
small, long eggplants, about 5 to 6 inches (I used Gretel variety from my raised bed, Fairytale eggplants are comparable or 1 slender long eggplant of a larger variety)
Olive oil for grilling
unsalted butter (can sub vegan butter)
2 % milk (can sub nut milk, such as almond)
1 1/2 tablespoons
white miso (we used barley miso, which is darker)
Trim ends off cucumber and eggplants. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut cucumber crosswise into thirds, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Place vegetables in a baking pan and drizzle cut sides with olive oil, rubbing oil with your fingertip to cover the vegetables. Set aside until grill is hot.
While you are waiting for your grill to heat up, start your quinoa by melting butter in a small saucepan. Add quinoa and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to toast the grains. After about 5 minutes, quinoa should start to pop and smell nutty (a few grains will turn golden brown). At this point, add milk and water, and whisk in miso. Cover pot and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 17 to 20 minutes until grains are tender and liquid has been absorbed. Remove pot from heat.
Grill cucumber and eggplant pieces cut side down until lightly charred and tender, about 5 minutes for cucumber and 7 to 8 for eggplant. Flip and grill skin side down for 2 to 3 minutes more. Cucumber skin will start to wrinkle and eggplant flesh should yield easily when poked with a knife. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Slice cucumbers and eggplants crosswise into half moons.
Fluff quinoa and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add sliced cucumber, eggplant, and half of the cilantro. Whisk or shake dressing to re-emulsify and add to taste (note that tamari and miso can both vary widely in saltiness, so dress sparingly at first, then add more as you like). I use about half of the dressing. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold to combine components of pilaf. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pilaf is also delicious cold, the next day. Enjoy!
For the Soy Dressing
Combine tamari and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in orange juice and canola oil. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid.
This will make more dressing than you need for this recipe. Use remaining as a dressing for other grilled vegetables or as a marinade for meat.
My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love.
Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.