This stunning quinoa is one of my most asked-for recipes on Instagram, and my cookbook is the first place I’ve shared it—I hope you like it! Beet, miso, and a touch of clove add a sensuous, earthy quality to this quinoa in the happy company of creamy avocado, pecans, and fragrant charred peach and asparagus. Stone fruit is mostly sold underripe to protect it from bruising—a blast of heat brings its sweetness and softness out instantly. Char it with the asparagus in a dry pan or over a naked gas flame—a simple technique normally used to broil small green shishito peppers in Japan.
Red Velvet Quinoa
Scant 1 1/4 cups quinoa, washed and drained
1 medium beet, scrubbed and roughly chopped into small pieces
1 3/4 cups water, to cook
2 Tbsp brown rice miso paste
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves (or crumble top of 1 clove bud)
A little finely grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
Charred Peach and Asparagus
1/2 slightly underripe peach or nectarine
3 to 4 asparagus stalks, woody ends removed
To assemble (per bento)
A few little gem lettuce leaves
1/2 avocado, flesh scooped out or sliced
2 to 3 Tbsp toasted pecans
1/2 tsp tamari (optional)
Squeeze of lime juice (optional)
Make the red velvet quinoa: Place rinsed, wet quinoa in pan and toast over high heat, stirring frequently, until it looks dry and crackles a lot (it’s fine if it gets a little “burnt,” as this adds a good smoky flavor). Add beet and measured water for cooking, cover, and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat until grains are soft and all water is gone, about 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk remaining quinoa ingredients together in large mixing bowl, add hot quinoa, and combine well. Let cool slightly before packing in bento and/or storage container with lid. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Make the charred peach and asparagus: Option 1: Use very hot, dry skillet and press fruit (cut-side down) and asparagus onto skillet bottom with spatula for a few moments to char. Add splash of water, then quickly cover with lid for 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Option 2: Place metal grid (I use an old oven rack) over stovetop’s biggest gas flame, and when metal is red hot, lower flame and use a utensil (something you don’t mind burning a little, like metal tongs) to press fruit and then asparagus onto rack for a few seconds to get grill marks. Reduce heat to lowest setting and allow produce to char for 30 seconds on each side. Transfer to plate and let cool. Eat grilled produce on the day you prep it.
Assemble the bento: Arrange quinoa in one end of box (or in whole box if using a double-decker like in the image). Make bed of lettuce in remaining space and arrange avocado, peach or nectarine, and asparagus on top. Add pecans, either in divider or pocket made from parchment paper. If you want dressing, pour tamari and squeeze of lime juice into small leakproof container to take with you and drizzle over veggies later. Close box and pack in a bento bag or furoshiki (see bottom of p. 39) with dressing container and a fork or chopsticks.