This yummy pilaf is a simple way to enjoy quinoa, the high-protein "grain" (technically, it's a berry) that hails from the Andes mountains of South America. Quinoa grains are quite small, so take the time to dice the vegetables very finely so everything will be well distributed in the finished dish.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper
2 tablespoons raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the quinoa. Stir around with your fingers for a moment, then transfer to a fine-mesh strainer. Hold the strainer under the tap and rinse the quinoa with cold water for a few seconds, then set it aside to drain.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Stir and saute for 3 minutes. Add the quinoa, garlic, and thyme, then stir and saute for 3 minutes longer. Add the stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pan stand without disturbing the lid for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the sunflower and sesame seeds separately by placing them in a single layer in a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Shake the pan frequently as the seeds toast. When they have turned a darker shade of tan and emit a toasty aroma, immediately remove them from the pan and set aside.

Transfer the pilaf to a serving dish, add the toasted seeds, and toss with two forks to break up any clumps and distribute the ingredients evenly. Serve immediately.

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Onion and Buckwheat Soup

Here is a curative comfort soup. Plenty of garlic and onions, the earthy flavor of buckwheat, and a hearty porridge texture combine to soothe and satisfy. (See my Savoring the Moment post for more commentary on this soup.)

Yield: 6 servings

2 medium red onions
1 bulb garlic (about 12 medium cloves)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried
¾ teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper
8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
2/3 cup uncooked roasted buckwheat groats
6 cups chopped fresh tender greens (such as chard, mustard, or spinach), lightly packed

Peel, halve, and thinly slice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves and finely chop them. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat and sauté the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, rosemary, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bay leaves and bring to a simmer over high heat. Stir in the buckwheat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the greens and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes longer.

The pleasures of pilaf

Here's another excerpt from my cookbook in progress: Longevity Cuisine

For hundreds of years, cooks have been combining grains with a wide variety of sweet and savory ingredients, transforming their humble everyday staple into something special. Such dishes are called pilaf or pullao throughout India and the Middle East, where they grace the table at ordinary family meals as well as special feasts.

Basic pilaf is made by toasting long-grain rice in butter or oil, then boiling it in a flavorful stock. The toasting process develops a delicous nutty flavor in the grain. There are two other simple but essential techniques for great pilaf:

1) When the simmering time is finished, turn off the heat and don't remove the lid for the 5 to 10 minutes. The steam that has built up in the covered pan will continue to plump and separate the grains.

2) When you transfer the pilaf to a serving platter or bowl, use a couple of forks to "fluff" the grains, separating clumps and distribuing any ingredients that have settled on top.

When it's ready to serve, you can garnish the pilaf in any number of appetizing ways. Mound it on a pretty platter, then arrange sprigs of fresh herbs and cooked or raw vegetables on top and around it to brighten up the presentation...

Cooking Tips for Beginners

To become exceptional cooks, we need knowledge, skill, and finely-tuned sensory awareness. When we're cooking for health and longevity, the learning process may involve some basic biochemistry, as well. If this seems daunting, just shake off your resistance and begin. It's a fascinating course of study, and you'll enjoy wonderful meals and excellent health along the way.

As you travel the longevity cooking path, you will learn many classic techniques and develop special methods all your own. Here is some basic advice to help you get the most from your early efforts:

1) Always use the highest-quality ingredients you can find and afford;
2) Let go of any worries you may have and focus your complete attention on the task at hand;
3) To avoid overwhelm, select one recipe as the focus of your meal and serve it with simple side dishes such as fresh vegetable sticks or a green salad;
4) Give yourself plenty of time to prepare the meal so you don't make mistakes by hurrying;
5) Read the recipe all the way through before beginning to cook so you have a clear overview of the entire process.
6) Set out all your tools and and ingredients, as called for in the recipe, before turning on the stove.

Finally, a special request: When you've had enough experience to develop peace of mind in the kitchen, invite your friends and family, especially children, to help you with simple tasks. Relax and have fun together -- you're nurturing the longevity chefs of tomorrow.