I am a Whole Foods Market fanatic. Always have been. Many years ago, I trekked all the way to Houston just to walk the aisles of this foodie fantasyland. Then later, Whole Foods moved closer with the opening of the New Orleans market, and then even closer in Baton Rouge. My wife Roxanne teases that I will spend $20 in gas to drive an hour to Whole Foods in Baton Rouge just to buy a bag of groceries. But, it’s more than that and as any food-obsessed cook knows, Whole Foods Market is sensory overload on numerous levels and an educational introduction to healthy eating.
That’s why this week’s opening of Lafayette’s Whole Foods Market is most significant. I’ve talked before about the local renaissance of all-natural, healthy eating that Acadiana has embraced with its farm-to-table movement connecting consumers and growers. And the timely entry of Whole Foods into the region extends the reach of consumers to healthy alternatives on a daily retail basis.
Contrary to popular belief, Louisiana food can be healthy. Whole grains, fresh vegetables, fish and shellfish all work to counterbalance the richer, heavier side of Cajun and Creole food. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming that the good folks who live along the bayou practice a holistic diet regimen, but most do enlist moderation in their diets.
A few days ago I got a pre-opening sneak peek at the newest Whole Foods. I quickly discovered numerous options for the dinner table that were previously unavailable to South Louisiana cooks. The bulk bins at Whole Foods are filled with grains like bulgur wheat, barley, couscous and even quinoa, a particular favorite of mine.
Quinoa burst onto the American food scene some years ago and has quickly become a mainstay of trendy restaurant menus. So, here’s the skinny on this healthy alternative. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually an edible seed produced by a grain that is gluten-free and rich in protein. Grown primarily in the Andes region of South America, quinoa comes in red, black and white varieties. Home cooks in Acadiana have experimented with it for years and the end product is fluffy and flavor-filled.
After several kitchen experiments with quinoa, I ventured back to Whole Foods Market and found all the ingredients for a salad combination that works to balance its whole grain simplicity with familiar South Louisiana flavors like the holy trinity of vegetables – sliced shallots, diced celery and chopped bell pepper. Lightly spiced boiled shrimp and tomato give a contrast to the refined ingredients of this salad, and the dried figs provide a magical sweetness. The dressing couldn’t be simpler with its focus on tangy lemon and a splash of olive oil.
The truth is out. With a visit to Whole Foods Market and this salad recipe, quinoa is off-the-shelf and on-the-table of homes across Acadiana. After one taste, you will be a true believer in this tasty ingredient.
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 ½ cups whole grain quinoa
- 1 cup wild rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup finely diced carrots
- 1 cup finely diced celery
- 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
- 1 large ripe tomato, chopped
- ½ cup diced dried figs
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced into rounds
- Juice and zest of 2 large lemons, seeds removed
- Water, for boiling
- ¼ cup liquid crab boil or 3 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 fresh lemon, quartered
- 1½ pounds small raw Louisiana shrimp, peeled
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a large pot over high heat, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add a liberal handful of salt and garlic. Add the quinoa and bring back to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until tender and the chicken stock is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa remain in the liquid for another 5 minutes. Uncover and taste the quinoa for doneness. Using a colander, drain the liquid and place the quinoa in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- In a large pot over high heat, add the water and the wild rice along with a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes, or until done. Drain the liquid and add the rice to the same bowl containing the quinoa. Stir the two together with a fork to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- In a large pot over high heat, fill halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, celery, and bell pepper. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook the vegetables until blanched, about 2 minutes. Drain the vegetables into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Move the vegetables to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the carrots, celery, bell pepper, tomato, figs, and sliced shallots. Add the quinoa and wild rice along with the lemon juice and zest. Toss all together and combine evenly. Cover and refrigerate.
- In a large pot over high heat, fill halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the crab boil, lemon quarters, and a handful of salt. Add the shrimp and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink. Remove one of the larger shrimp and test for doneness. If done, turn off the heat and drain the shrimp into a colander. Run cold water over the shrimp to stop any carryover cooking. Drain and remove the shrimp to a paper towel-covered platter and dry up any moisture.
- Add the shrimp to the bowl containing the quinoa, rice and vegetables. Toss the salad while lightly drizzling the extra virgin olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld and all ingredients cool.
- For serving, remove the bowl and uncover. Sprinkle with salt and grind black pepper over the salad and toss once more. Serve a generous portion on a salad plate evenly distributing the shrimp and other ingredients.
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