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Meatless Monday: Cumin-scented quinoa with beets and curried chickpeas

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The Garden of Eating

(Read caption) Cumin-scented quinoa with beets topped with curried chickpeas and beet greens.

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This was the first recipe I tried from Maria Speck's wonderful new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals last summer (congrats to Maria on all the wonderful press her book has gotten of late – it's richly deserved!). We brought a small tub of this brilliantly colored quinoa to a barbecue and it was such a hit with everyone that I've made it several times since then.

In addition to the gorgeous, ruby-like color, I was drawn by the idea of infusing the quinoa with cumin's exotic flavor and tempering it with the beets' intense sweetness. And I decided to take things one step further and use the beet greens in some quick curried chickpeas to add a little extra protein. Top the whole thing with some yogurt or raita and you're in business!

After conquering my unfounded initial dislike of it, quinoa has become one of my favorite grains. It's got a unique flavor – pleasantly nutty yet mild enough for versatility, and it cooks quickly. It's also one of those "super foods" that people love to blather on about (I won't bore you by talking about its superior nutritional qualities but, rest assured, it has them!)

Cumin is one of the backbones of Indian and Mexican food and I use it often – I love its pungent, slightly earthy flavor. This recipe calls for simmering the quinoa with whole cumin seeds to impart some of that nice flavor to the grain. Check the bulk section of your health food or grocery store to find it whole. It should be cheap.

Beets are another food that I had to conquer my distaste for but am now 100 percent sold on. I think that in this case, it was a matter of my taste buds finally maturing or something – how else can I account for my vehement dislike of their earthy flavor for nearly 30 years? But now I think beets are the bomb! Rich, beautiful and incredibly sweet. Plus, they're also sickeningly good for you - packed with nutrients and antioxidants. I'm always amazed by the brilliance of their color. I've come to love them raw – they're great in green salads, too. Crunchy and sweet!

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