How to Deconstruct a Quinoa Bowl

I am not a good cook. Never have been, never will be, never aspired to be. Nevertheless, I do try, from time to time, to augment my meager culinary skills, and this has sometimes resulted in one or two reasonably palatable dishes being added to my repertoire. So when I come across a discarded magazine containing recipes in a cruisers’ library, I page through it in the hope of finding something easy and nutritious to whip up on Corroboree. One such was an arty “wellness” magazine with a famous actress on the cover and, inside, a selection of her delicious, personally approved, fitness-filled recipes. A refreshing quinoa bowl, accompanied by an appetizing photo, caught my eye. Hey, I can do quinoa. I started to read…

First, you need 1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice. Got it. As in a home pantry, grains are a staple on most boats. Next, 3 spears of asparagus, shaved. Okay, finding asparagus in season is possible when cruising, but I have never heard of “shaving” it. I presume this involves scraping or peeling the outer surface from the spear, but why? Isn’t the outside just as nutritious as the inside? That’s what we’re told about potato skins, after all. Or perhaps, since the asparagus is not cooked, the outer millimeter is a shade tougher than the tender innards? As if our sailors’ palates would know the difference. Either way, how do you shave a skinny green vegetable? I’m picturing an old-fashioned razor and strop and a can of Gillette Foamy.  

Never mind, on to ½ cup grated carrot. That’s better. Carrots are readily available everywhere, and I do have a grater among my galley utensils. I never use it, though, as it takes a bit more work to clean than a sharp knife. I’m sure the carrot won’t care if I just chop it, although the actress might.

But now I need ½ small watermelon radish, thinly sliced with a mandoline. I can see the precise slices in the helpful photo, and the radish’s green rim and pinkish interior do evoke the colors of a watermelon. But I have never encountered such an item in any normal grocery store in the USA, let alone on a tiny island with a one-room grocery that depends upon a weekly supply boat to stock its shelves. And if I require only one-half of a radish that is already small…As for the mandoline, obviously, if you have to ask what this is, you are too ignorant to be reading this magazine. I’m left to envision myself pressing a tidbit of oddly colored root through the protesting strings of a musical instrument.

Next, 2/3 cup poached, shredded chicken. No worries. Even though we’re vegetarian, it’s easy to substitute tofu, beans, eggs or cheese for any meat ingredient. We found canned tofu in the Caribbean, which wasn’t half bad, and elsewhere we have purchased sealed tofu that doesn’t require refrigeration and lasts two months. No problem, either, to obtain 2/3 cup thinly sliced bok choy. Fresh bok choy has been abundant in both grocery stores and farmers’ markets in most places we’ve visited. I’m back on a roll.

Although I am beginning to wonder about this 2/3 cup theme. Why not make it one full cup? Be generous! Especially since you already got out the 1 cup measure for the quinoa. Besides, this might be a good time to confess that with two exceptions I rarely use measuring cups or spoons at all. Eyeballing is more my style. The exceptions are 2 cups water to 1 cup rice, quinoa and other grains, and the measuring spoons to add bleach to our water tanks at a rate of one teaspoon per five gallons. Many cruisers do this as an extra precaution to sanitize the water they take on board, and you can’t taste the bleach, I promise.

My galley “basics.” I gave away my few cookbooks when we moved aboard Corroboree, copying only recipes I knew I would use.

To continue, ¼ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves, which supermarkets in larger countries do carry. But, another confession and one that is sure to make my foodie friends cringe: my entire collection of seasonings aboard Corroboree consists of one shaker each of Italian mixed herbs, ground ginger and curry powder, along with soy sauce, Dijon mustard, veggie bouillon cubes, lemon juice and salt. I could blame the deficient state of my seasonings on the impracticality of storing a dozen different, rarely used herbs and spices aboard a boat in humid climates, not to mention the limited cupboard space. But let’s be honest: I’m not just a bad cook, I’m a lazy one. So out with the coriander, in with the Italian herbs.

Still, the overall recipe is promising. So what if the dressing calls for 2 tsp chickpea miso paste (huh?), 2 tsp grated fresh ginger (see powdered ginger, above), the zest and juice of 2 limes (see lemon juice, ditto), and 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (Yes! I score!). Better yet, I’ll use bottled Italian dressing and add a can of chickpeas, thereby supplying the chickpea flavor and fulfilling the poached, shredded chicken requirement in one brilliant swoop. Plus, I won’t need to use and wash a whisk and mixing bowl. As for the instruction to taste and season the dressing with flaky sea salt…Sorry, you get one kind of salt on this boat, and it’s called table salt. The other kind is what comes aboard in the form of a wave leaping into the cockpit and drenching you to the skin, and trust me, you don’t want that.

Now the recipe is almost done. You divide the quinoa between two bowls, top each half with the asparagus, carrot, radish, chicken and boy choy, garnish with the coriander, and pour over the miso dressing. Wait…this is a recipe for two people? Who get only ½ cup of quinoa and 1/3 cup of chicken and bok choy apiece? Not to mention ¼ of one small watermelon radish. That photo made the bowl look big! Now it turns out you’ll be so healthy you’ll die of starvation. For the final touch, drizzle each bowl with about 1 tbs coconut aminos and about 1 tsp toasted sesame oil. You’re going to drizzle your salad with a coconut friend and a bare teaspoon of toasted—heaven forbid it should be untoasted!—sesame oil?

Here’s the kicker—this recipe is described as “quick.” But even if you have a regular kitchen, by which I mean a stable one that doesn’t rock and roll, you still have to cook the quinoa, poach and shred the chicken, shave the asparagus, wash, grate and slice the veggies, greens and ginger, zest the limes, mix the dressing, wash the dishes and clean the kitchen counters.

How is this “quick”? What planet does this woman live on? Wait, I know…It’s a planet where, in between acting roles, running her own wellness company, attending red-carpet events with her husband, being interviewed for yet another magazine article, and mothering her adorable children, she turns to her personal chef and culinary staff in her gourmet kitchen in her humble home, and says, “Henri, rustle up a refreshing quinoa bowl for my lunch.” That’s what “quick” means.

Okay, it’s bad of me to mock a woman who just wants to share with other women her secrets for looking and feeling fabulously fit and healthy. I fully recognize I am not the target audience for this magazine, which in another article featured a group of beauty and fashion editors getting together for a girls’ brunch with fancy drinks where they talk frankly about their periods and which body parts they’ve had lasered for hair removal. You don’t want to know and neither did I, but apparently their readers do.

I also apologize if I seem to be insulting my foodie friends. I’m not. I love you! I admire your skills and your flair. I love being invited to your home for dinner and regret that the best I can offer in return is wine, cheese, and veggie stick hors d’oeuvres.

And you are all free to demand of me, what planet do you live on where you put bleach in your drinking water and don’t stock fresh coriander? Well, it’s a planet where your kitchen measures 15 square feet, your stove has three burners, and you have no refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven or dishwasher. Where meals with short cooking times are preferable to extend the use of your propane cooking bottle. Where you use as few pots and dishes as possible because even in port you never waste fresh water. Where, when the waves are bouncing, the gimballed stove is swinging, and you’re bracing yourself against the sink to avoid being tossed across the cabin, an excellent dinner is a bowl of canned soup or oatmeal.

My spacious kitchen on a sunny afternoon

Yet I have met sailors who are incredible cooks and specialize in gourmet cuisine at sea. They bake bread, make their own yogurt and carry a selection of aromatic coffee beans. They’re usually on larger boats with better equipped galleys, but even if I had their boat, I wouldn’t live up to their example. Eric believes I have an inferiority complex about this and loyally seeks to bolster my confidence by praising my cooking to others. No, what I have is a self-honesty complex, and as I said, I am not a good cook under any circumstances.

I don’t need to be. Because Eric will eat anything if it contains one of the four following ingredients: peanut butter/peanuts, cheese, raisins, chocolate. Veggies and tofu in peanut butter sauce on rice—one point. A grilled cheese sandwich with a chocolate chip cookie for lunch—score two. Likewise, oatmeal topped with peanuts, raisins and maple syrup—yummy! A garden salad garnished with peanuts, raisins and cheese—three. Finish off the garden salad with a digestive biscuit spread with Nutella—Bingo! We have four!

Amazingly, I do occasionally come up with a recipe of my own that we unanimously proclaim to be a winner, even when it doesn’t contain one of the Favorite Four. Here is one below. As you might expect, it’s very flexible, and you are welcome to vary the proportions and to substitute or add other vegetables, such as green beans, red or green peppers, spinach or broccoli. Try it at your peril!

Veggie Dinner Pancakes à la Corroboree
Serves 2

1 zucchini, about 6-7” long, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 6-ounce package of pancake mix (any brand will do)
1-2 teaspoons of Italian herbs (or other fresh or dried herbs of your choice)
Butter or olive oil
Ranch salad dressing (or other creamy dressing of your choice)

Saute the chopped zucchini and carrot in a large skillet in butter or olive oil. Prepare the pancake mix in a bowl. Add the sautéed veggies and herbs to the pancake mix. Add more butter or olive oil to the skillet if needed and cook the pancakes until nicely browned. Top with ranch dressing. Serve with a side salad or garnish the plate with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.

Bon Appetit!