Ever wonder why some people seem to naturally gravitate towards certain foods and other people avoid those same foods like the plague? In undergraduate school I majored in biological sciences, and evolutionary biology was the first required science course. In one of our very first classes we were discussing how genetics influences different peoples’ taste perceptions. To illustrate our discussion, the professor passed out little pieces of paper containing phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) to all the students. The professor told us that about 75% of us would taste a bitter flavor (ranging anywhere from extreme to slight bitterness) and about 25% would taste nothing at all. I tasted the PTC and to me it tasted extremely bitter. I was shocked to see that my friend who also tasted the PTC hadn’t immediately yanked the horrid little piece of paper out of her mouth or made the same squinty face and “yuck!” noise that I had made…she hadn’t tasted anything at all. And in the end the professor was right; he took a poll of our 500+ person class and about 75% of us had tasted bitter and 25% had tasted nothing. That was proof enough for me that genetics plays a huge role in our tastes. (You can read more about the PTC gene here or more about taste perception and eating behavior here…very interesting stuff!)
Quite a few people have told me that they don’t like quinoa and I’ll be honest, the first time I had it I didn’t care much for it either. It makes sense to me that some people are more sensitive to taste of the bitter resin that naturally coats the outside of quinoa (even after some serious rinsing I don’t think all the resin is completely removed). I find that the bitter flavor I taste when I eat quinoa is balanced by combining it with something naturally sweet, such as the fresh tomatoes and sweet basil I use in this dish.
When I made this, I also had a summer squash on hand so I roasted that with an onion for some more natural sweetness, and all in all it was a delicious lunch. You can use whatever veggies you have, but if you have the time, go ahead and roast them to bring out their naturally sweet flavor. For a nice fall variation, I think this would be delicious with the sweetness of roasted pumpkin or butternut squash.
(Yield: 2 servings)
1 small-medium summer squash, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 TB olive oil
1/2 c quinoa
3/4 c water
2 medium tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper
A small handful of fresh basil
Preheat oven to 425F. Toss together the summer squash, onion, oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. Spread the veggies out in an oven-safe dish and roast until tender, about 18 minutes, giving the veggies a stir one or two times while roasting.
Soak the quinoa in cold water for 15 minutes. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve, then thoroughly rinse it under cold running water. Transfer the quinoa, 3/4 c water, and a pinch of salt to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil over medium heat with the lid off; once it boils, give it a stir, cover it, and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook for 14 minutes, turn the heat off, and let it sit with the lid on for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.