Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quatre Épices and Quinoa

Q is quatre épices (KAH-t(r)e  ay-PEE-say), a spice blend that is a regular feature in French cooking.

I am really big on making your own spice blends instead of spending money for taco seasoning or pumpkin pie spice. They are soooo easy to make and much cheaper. For today, I am highlighting one that may not be as familiar to you.

There are actually cinq or six spices, quatre of which might be used. However, rarely are only four spices in the mix. Be daring. Make yours with different combos to find what works best for you. There are savory and sweet (for cakes and puddings) spice combos. We’re doing savory today.

Quatre épices always has: white pepper (though black can be used), nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Some recipes will substitute allspice for the pepper or cinnamon for ginger. Many recipes include all six. Play with it to find your favorite combo! One ratio is equal amounts of any spice but pepper. The amount of pepper is double that of any single spice. In other recipes, the proportions vary from this recipe.

The French use quatre épices as their go-to spice on all kinds of food. Pork roasted with honey, rosemary and quatre épices will stun your guests. Use 1 teaspoon per each pound of meat. Quatre épices will “spice up” beef stew dishes or sprinkle it on chicken before roasting. Sprinkle on veggies or in pâté. It’s everywhere.

Or you just might make these nuts:

Quatre Épices Appetizer Nuts
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons quatre épices
2½ cups mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds)

Bring water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Stir until sugar mixture turns golden. Turn heat to medium. Add salt and spice mixture. Stir to combine.

Add nuts to coat. Continue cooking until sugar mixture thickens.

Turn nuts out onto a parchment covered baking sheet in a single layer to cool.

You can eat them as is, or crush the nuts and sprinkle on your salad or ice cream.

Q is for quinoa (KEEN-wah), a pseudo-cereal since the plant isn’t a member of the true grass family. While we treat it as if it were a whole grain (and cook it like rice or barley), quinoa is actually a seed. Quinoa has one of the highest protein levels of edible seeds. Quinoa, a complete protein, is also gluten-free, high in phosphorus and fiber, and a good calcium source.

Quinoa is an old cultivated plant. Indigenous Andeans first grew it 3000-4000 years ago. The Incas called it the “mother of all grains” and thought quinoa to be sacred. And it is, kind of. A complete protein. No need to have meat if game is scarce. No need to pair it with another food like corn and beans must.

So if this is such great stuff, why is quinoa just now making superfood status? Why haven’t we been eating it forever? Why are we just learning about it?

Blame it on the Spaniards. When they encountered quinoa, they rejected it as “Indian food”, not fit for the conquerers. That’s bad enough, but then they suppressed cultivation because of quinoa’s role in native religion. The Spanish forced the natives to grow wheat instead. Boo!

Quinoa must be rinsed prior to cooking to remove a coating that can make it taste bitter. Other than that, quinoa, like rice, is easy to cook. Prepare with one part quinoa to 2 parts liquid, and it is done in only 15 minutes. I like to cook in a broth and white wine combo and then add dried cranberries. Yummy! I’ll bet some quatre épices would add flavor, too!

For more ideas, here are 25 quinoa recipes


  1. I just tested a recipe for Cook's Illustrated using quinoa. The recipe was not bad but next time I will substitute rice. It may be complete, but it was not completely satisfying.

    1. We like quinoa, Denise. It's chewier, different flavor, but maybe it's an acquired taste. You could try it with different seasonings or cooking broths. That might help. Thanks so much for coming by to read and comment! I appreciate it!

  2. I loved learning about the quatre epices, since I love, love, love French food and head to the Alsace region for dinner as often as my wallet allows. Great post. (

    1. Thanks, Corinne! You, too, can cook like a French woman! Glad to see you again. I passed along your Istanbul link to my travel companions.

    2. Interesting info on quinoa!

    3. Thanks, James! Nice to see you again. I worry with you chefs coming by! I hope if I get something wrong you'll help me fix it!