This is the last of a month's worth of weeknight recipes featuring ancient grains, from Maria Speck's " Ancient Grains for Modern Meals."

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) was cultivated at least 5,000 years ago. It is a " pseudograin," which means that it is similar to a grain and has a similar nutritional profile; it's actually part of the goosefoot family, which includes chard and lamb's quarters.

As Speck notes at the top of her recipe in the book, she never wears gloves to peel raw beets, but we recommend it.

Sumac is a dark red powder made from the crushed dried berries of a small Mediterranean tree. It gives a sharp, acidic kick to salads and roasted meats or fish. Its complex flavor contributes sweet and bitter notes. In some cases, lemon juice may be substituted. Good-quality sumac is available at Middle Eastern markets.

Serve with your favorite green vegetable, cooked or raw. Based on a recipe in Speck's "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals" (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

4 servings


For the quinoa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1 cup red quinoa

1 3/4 cups water

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon ground sumac (see headnote)

1 medium beet (2 inches in diameter)

1 lemon

1 or 2 pinches cayenne pepper (optional)

12 ounces skirt steak (may substitute boneless leg of lamb)

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

1 large clove garlic

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1/2 teaspoon ground sumac, for sprinkling (may substitute 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice)


For the quinoa: Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer; rinse well under cool running water and drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the cumin seed, which will sizzle on contact; cook for 30 seconds, stirring, until the seeds darken slightly in color, then carefully stir in the quinoa until it is heated through and evenly coated (about 1 minute).

Add the water, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the sumac, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to maintain small bubbles at the edges. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until just about all the liquid is absorbed. The quinoa will have "sprouted," showing small white edges. Remove from the heat.

While the quinoa is cooking, don food-safe gloves if desired; trim and peel the beet, then use the large holes of a box grater to shred it, yielding about 1 1/4 cups.

Cut the lemon in half.

Stir the shredded/grated beet into the cooked quinoa, then squeeze in 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the cayenne pepper to taste, if desired, stirring to incorporate. Cover and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes.

Heat the remaining oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Trim any excess fat from the skirt steak, then cut the meat into bite-size chunks. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sumac and salt and pepper to taste.

Add the meat to the skillet and cook for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides and barely medium-rare. Remove from the heat.

For the topping: Finely chop the garlic or run it through a garlic press.

Combine the yogurt and garlic in a medium bowl; sprinkle with sumac.

To serve, uncover the quinoa; stir and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed. Divide among individual plates; distribute equal portions of the steak atop or alongside the quinoa.

Serve hot, with dollops of the garlicky yogurt topping.

Nutrition per serving: 410 calories, 26g protein, 35g carbohydrates, 18g fat, 5g saturated fat, 55mg cholesterol, 620mg sodium, 3g dietary fiber, 4g sugar.