Catalan is the language spoken in Catalonia, near the border of France and Spain, and in the tiny country of Andorra (which was so small it was excluded from the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI and therefore remained at war until the 1950s!). The food from this part of the world is rich in flavor, inspired by the conquistadors’ travels in the Americas as well as the influence of north Africa and even Asia. Catalan food was fusion food long before fusion became cool. Catalan stew over Spanish rice with quinoa draws on the flavors of the old world and new world.
Alfred Crosby coined the term “Columbian Exchange” to bring the proper focus to the era of Columbus’s voyage. To say that Columbus “discovered” the “new world” is inaccurate; the Columbian Exchange was not just about Europe finding the Americas but rather was people the world over discovering the rest of the world. The era of the Columbian Exchange all comes together in this dish. Turkey, avocado, and hot peppers all originated in the Americas yet were embraced by Europeans. The original Americans also taught Europeans that not all nightshade plants (like tomatoes) were poisonous. And from Africa and Asia Europeans learned to eat health-giving turmeric (popular in Indian cuisine), which I’ll use as a frugal substitute for saffron in my “Spanish” rice. Even more recently the world has re-discovered the ancient South American grain quinoa*, which is rich is protein. This fragrant, nutty stew full of familiar and exotic flavors is a great way to get your family to try new food.
Tip: Start the onion for the stew first, and while it starts to cook you can prep the rest of the onion for the rice. You can prep the peppers and garlic while the rice starts cooking. Just keep working back and forth, and both dishes will be ready at the same time, about 45 minutes from when you start.
Spanish Rice with Quinoa:
- 1/4 cup sweet yellow onion, finely diced
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small pat butter (about a teaspoon)
- 1/2 cup nutty brown rice, like Basmati or jasmine
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup water (Yes, you can skip the chicken broth and just use 1 cup of water, but why?)
- 1/2 cup quinoa (I used a combination of red and regular)
- 1 cup water (again)
Begin by sauteing the onion in the oil and butter on low heat. After the onion has sauteed for a minute or two, add the rice, and continue to stir regularly over low heat for about 5 minutes. Most of the rice should transform from translucent to opaque as it toasts in the oil. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric, stir, and then saute a minute more. Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and put a lid on the pot for 20-25 minutes minutes. Add the quinoa and another cup of water, and cook for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- 3/4 sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or pushed through a garlic press)
- 1 Hatch (Anaheim) chile, seeded and sliced lengthwise and crosswise
- 1 jalapeno, roasted and seeded and finely diced
- 14-16 ounces diced tomatoes (canned is actually best here, whether home canned or good organic store-bought canned)
- handful of raisins
- 1/3 pound cooked turkey (or chicken or raw shrimp, cleaned. I used leftover turkey, frozen and thawed. You’re family will never spot it as Tom from Thanksgiving!)
- handful of toasted, slivered almonds (Toast the almonds in a 325 degree F oven for about ten minutes. Since ovens vary, watch closely! You can do this after the stew and rice go on autopilot in the last 25 minutes of cooking.)
- avocado, sliced in half lengthwise twice and then into thin slices. (You can do this after you start toasting the almonds.)
Saute the onion in the olive oil over low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and saute for about three more minutes, taking care to keep the garlic from burning. Pour in the diced tomatoes with juice. Add the handful of raisins. Put the pot on a gentle simmer. If you are using turkey or chicken, add it now. Otherwise, wait until the last ten minutes of rice cooking to add the shrimp to the stew. The stew will be ready at the same time as the rice, about 45 minutes after you start.
To serve, fluff the Spanish rice with quinoa and pile it on each plate. Make an indentation in the middle of each serving, and spoon on the Catalan stew. Garnish with toasted almonds in the middle and avocado slices around the edge of the stew. (Unfortunately, I covered the beautiful, nutty, yellow-tinted Spanish rice and Quinoa. You can see a little of it on the lower right of the plate.)
*Quinoa is a nutty-flavored South American grain that, unlike other grains, contains a complete protein all by itself. Quinoa is incredibly healthy and raises the protein quotient of Spanish rice. If you haven’t cooked with quinoa yet, give it a try. I think you’ll like it. If you’d like to make this dish tonight and don’t have quinoa, go ahead. Just use one cup of rice and two cups of water/chicken broth.
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