I went to make my quinoa pilaf the other day and realized that my spearmint has all but faded for the year (perhaps helped to its dormancy by my enthusiastic pruning and use of its leaves throughout the summer). My apple mint, though, still grew abundantly (perhaps helped along by my steadfastly ignoring its offerings throughout the summer, in favor of its mintier cousin).
Apple mint, for those who have never tried it, is a sweeter, less-minty varietal. I made ice cream with it, once, was disappointed by its lack of sharpness, and have ignored it ever since–until now. Spurred into action by the challenge of making it work, I contemplated: how can I take advantage of the apple mint’s sweetness and turn its erstwhile weakness into an advantage?
I found my inspiration in the varietal’s very name, apple mint. I substituted walnuts for the pine nuts I had been using, added apples into the vegetable mix, and supplemented the golden raisins with dried cranberries; in addition to using apple mint for the final garnish. The result was more pleasing to the eye (as a result of the spark of color provided by the dried cranberries), and was also quite possibly even tastier than the original.
Quinoa Pilaf featuring Apple Mint
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot, cut to fine brunoise
- 1 apple, cut to fine brunoise (I used a wealthy apple)
- 1/4 cup mixed golden raisins and dried cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (the apples provide enough moisture that a full 2 cups of stock is a bit more than necessary)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 12-18 leaves fresh mint (apple mint does a great job, though other mints would work just fine, too)
- cooking oil
- salt and pepper
Rinse quinoa in three or four changes of water to guarantee that all of the bitter seed covering has been washed away (most commercially available quinoas have been pre-rinsed, but it’s worth it to make certain that the entire coating is gone). Drain in a fine mesh sieve for 3-5 minutes before using.
Toast walnuts in hot, dry skillet, tossing constantly to make certain that they do not burn. As nuts start to display a golden brown color and release a rich aroma, pour off to the side and reserve as a garnish.
Add thin layer of oil to bottom of pan and saute onion, garlic, and carrot with salt and pepper to taste. As vegetables soften and begin to display a hint of golden brown, add the diced apples, and follow them up in short succession with rinsed and drained quinoa, dried fruit, stock, and cinnamon stick. Cover, reduce heat, and let simmer 15 minutes.
Roll mint leaves the long way and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade). Stir mint and walnuts into finished quinoa. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.