Recipes

Nov 6, 2013 4:45 PM by Chef Jennifer English

Chef Charlie Trotter's Quinoa

TUCSON - Legendary Chicago Chef and Restaurateur Charlie Trotter died yesterday at his home in Chicago.

He was just 54 years old. Tributes from around the world are pouring in and reminding us why his passing is so notable.

According to the James Beard Foundation's own website, "Trotter was a pioneer in the food industry, forever changing American cuisine with his Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter's, which was an international culinary destination for 25 years before closing in 2012."

He was a humanitarian, philanthropist and perfectionist. He won multiple James Beard Awards (for practically everything he did), his restaurants, cookbooks, and television programs. He leaves behind a legacy that will be unwinding itself into national culinary consciousness for decades to come as the people he mentored continue to practice the gifts and gospel of Charlie Trotter.

If Charlie Trotter did something, he did it with a zealous quest for perfection. Not an easy thing to translate to dinner on a Wednesday night. But I wondered, is what Charlie Trotter preached and practiced so incompatible for the home cook on a weeknight?

Why would Charlie Trotter undertake all of the works in his career if not to inspire each of us, whether we were a professional chef or not? So I went hunting for what might be considered one of the most democratic, accessible recipes (read easy to make) for a school-night for us to prepare as a tribute to the life and legacy of Chef Charlie Trotter. This recipe for quinoa is perfect. In part because many people credit Trotter with the re-discovery and introduction of quinoa to our culinary pantry. In True uptown Trotter fashion it is served with a grilled tenderloin. I think it is a perfect side dish for any meal. even a roasted chicken or baked cod.

In my career, I had met and interviewed Chef Trotter over the years and tasted his brilliant, delicious perfect food at many events and celebration dinners. I do not possess the talent or technique to quest for perfection in the kitchen. But there are a few things that I think I make perfectly. I never got to cook for Charlie Trotter. But if I had, I might have made him my New England lobster roll. When I think of how I make that one simple sandwich. Of how I painstakingly shave the sides of the hot dog rolls to achieve the desired toasting surface or how to add just the right quantity of lemon zest or drawn butter so as not to overwhelm the result. I get a glimpse into how Charlie Trotter worked and was driven to make things be and taste the way he knew they were supposed to be. The way he dreamed them in his great mind. That was his art. His Genius.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups quinoa*
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-size yellow tomatoes, seeded, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preparation:

Place quinoa in strainer. Rinse under cold running water until water runs clear; drain. Mix quinoa, 2 cups water, and salt in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is just tender and almost all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Drain. Set aside. (Quinoa can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover; chill.)
Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add leeks; sauté until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add broth. Cover; simmer until leeks are tender, about 5 minutes. Add quinoa and oil; stir until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, onions, basil, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

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