Recipe: Quinoa picadillo by Brian Shaw

'Quinoa Picadillo' is on the menu at Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.

'Quinoa Picadillo' is on the menu at Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but my mother was a dietician for the Dallas School District. She had a master’s in nutrition, though it never translated into our family eating habits. You could say she left her work at the office.

Instead, our idea of eating well was a platter of country style ribs hot off the grill at 11 at night. Her one guideline, “at least eat the meat,” was, I’m sure, more a result of a Depression-era upbringing than based on any nutritional principles.

So when it came time for me to dramatically alter my adult eating habits in order to address some cholesterol issues, it didn’t come naturally. I have learned, however, if you can find alternatives for certain foods rather than just denying yourself the pleasure, you can learn to like it.

Take this picadillo recipe. Traditionally, picadillo, which shows up all over Latin America and Spain, consists of some sort of ground meat stewed with fruit, nuts and what is called “sweet spices” — cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and cumin. Here, we have replaced the meat with quinoa, regarded as one of the most perfect proteins in the plant world.

We’re serving the picadillo in a roasted poblano pepper on top of an easy sauce of goat cheese and walnuts in the style of Chilies en Nogadas, the traditional Pueblan dish commemorating Mexican independence. Here, too, you can substitute non-fat yogurt for the sour cream and almond milk for the whole milk.

It’s also good cold. Mix it with a little baby kale and drizzle with some olive oil and lemon juice for a healthy lunch. Either way, hot or cold, it’s a versatile dish that provides lots of protein without the fat.

By the way, if you have heard rumors about the road from Mound House to Virginia City being closed due to a collapse caused by recent mining activity, it’s not true. Only one of the roads is closed. The other one, State Route 431, also known as the truck route, forks off at Silver City. It takes about five minutes longer, but you get a road with sweeping turns that affords panoramic views of the Sierra then passes over the train yard before rejoining C Street at the historic Fourth Ward School. Check it out.


(Spanish spiced quinoa with fruit and nuts)

Yields about 4 cups

4 medium poblano chilies, roasted, peeled and seeded

One medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup diced tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups vegetable stock

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup sliced green olives

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a medium saucepan, sweat the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the spices, and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the quinoa, and stir to coat the grains. Add the stock, apples and raisins. Stir to combine, then bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the moisture has been absorbed by the quinoa. Remove from heat, scatter the sliced olives on top of the quinoa, and replace the lid, allowing everything to steam for about five minutes. Add the almonds, and fluff with a fork. Allow to cool a little before stuffing the chilies.

Place the stuffed chilies on a sheet pan, and bake loosely covered with foil at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve on a pool of the sauce garnished with pomegranate seeds.


One medium shallot, sliced

4 ounces walnut halves, free of any skin

1/2 cup milk (or almond milk)

4 ounces soft goat cheese (or queso fresco)

1 cup sour cream (or non-fat yogurt)

3 tablespoons sherry

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt to taste

In a small saucepan, sweat the shallot until translucent. Add the milk along with the walnuts, and bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat, and allow it to steep for about five minutes. Put the milk and almonds in a blender along with the remaining ingredients. Carefully puree until smooth with a little texture. Taste for salt. Serve warm. It’s OK to refrigerate then re-heat.

Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.


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