Whipping bitterly cold gusts of air against my exposed skin, the wind howled mercilessly, landing a barrage of freezing punches from all directions. Inescapable, unrelenting, this assault makes each step outside feel like a mile away. Winter in New England can be a challenge to cope with on the best of days, and through the eyes of a SAD-sufferer, no day is a good day. Days blur, sloppily, slowly, into one ugly mess of endless slush, ice, and darkness.
Lighting the way through these murky moments is the promise of imminent escape. Having the foresight to book a ticket back to Hawaii while airfare was still reasonable was the smartest impulse buy (not to mention the most expensive) I made all year. Memories of warmth, sun, and genuine happiness fuel a stubborn persistence to keep hanging on just a little while longer. White-knuckling it through the stress of final exams and bleakness of winter’s descent, the day of departure simply can’t come soon enough.
In the meantime, the tastes of Hawaii provide some small comfort, a tiny tropical oasis in the midst of less favorable conditions. Turning back to those incredible macadamia nuts that I had been saving for a rainy day, stashed way back in the depths of the freezer for safe keeping, savory inspiration pulled me away from my standard palate of sweet ingredients.
Seeking something light and bright to contrast with all of the other, heavier comfort foods keeping me afloat, quinoa proved an ideal canvas to paint the colors of Honolulu upon. That concept turned out quite literally, as dried hibiscus blossoms (the official state flower) and red beet juice stained the white grains a dainty shade of dusty rose. Buttery macadamias and a generous splash of coconut milk lend richness to the otherwise lean pilaf, balancing the opposing desires for clean flavors and soothing touches of decadence. Flavored simply with a backdrop of garlic and scallions, the floral infusion is what sets the dish apart. Each bite brings back visions of brilliant blooms, stretching upwards to kiss the cloudless blue sky.
Although it won’t stop me from counting the days until my Hawaiian adventures begin anew, a heaping helping of warm quinoa does help time pass at least a little bit more easily- And certainly much more deliciously.
Mahalo Macadamia Quinoa Pilaf
2 1/3 Cups Water
6 Dried Whole Hibiscus Blossoms, or 6 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Red Beet Juice or Puree (Optional, for Color)
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Raw Quinoa
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Coarsely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Large Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Place the water and hibiscus blossoms or tea bags in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring the water to a boil. Cover, remove the pot from the stove, and allow the tea to steep for about 30 minutes.
Squeeze out and discard the spent blossoms or tea bags. Return the pot to the stove and introduce the coconut milk, beet juice or puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquids to a full boil before adding in the quinoa. Cover and turn down the heat to low, keeping the contents of the pot at a gentle simmer. Cook for 16 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Turn off the heat but keep covered for 10 minutes to steam and finish cooking.
Meanwhile, toss the macadamia nuts into a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir constantly until they’re lightly toasted and smelling irresistibly nutty. Quickly transfer to the pot of quinoa to prevent them from burning and lightly wipe out the skillet.
Melt the oil to the skillet before adding in the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring periodically, until golden brown all over. Transfer to the pot of quinoa, along with the pepper and scallion. Mix thoroughly to combine and distribute the nuts and onions evenly throughout the quinoa. Stir in additional salt to taste, if desired.
Serve immediately while still warm, or chill for at least four hours for a refreshing cold salad.
Makes 6 – 8 Side Dish Servings