Chef Watson – Quinoa Pilaf
Attention fellow food geeks! Bon Appétit Magazine and IBM are working together to develop an exciting, new kitchen toy—I mean “tool”. Chef Watson is a software program that, according to the magazine “essentially discovers and invents dishes, using what it’s learned from Bon Appétit‘s 9,000-odd recipes, plus its own understanding of which chemical flavor compounds go together (and which don’t).” It’s an exciting and ambitious project that promises to put a fun twist on kitchen adventuring, opening cooks’ minds up to creative new flavor combinations they might not otherwise have come up with. Having already run Watson by professional chefs, IBM is now beta testing at the home cook level, and I’m thrilled to be allowed to take part in that process!
It’s admittedly early days still, and the good Chef has some oftentimes hilarious kinks to work out. (One recipe had me sautéing tortillas until translucent, and another wanted me to blanch and peel lentils.) Still, it’s a fun program with oodles of potential, and has already jumpstarted some interesting ideas about ingredient combinations in my own noggin. To use the tool, you select ingredients you’d like to work with from a pre-populated list, choose a kind of dish and a style of cooking, and then Watson conjures up 100 different recipes, ranging from fairly conventional flavor pairings to incredibly unique ones. After browsing the system in this fashion, tweaking ingredients and dishes to generate different results, I finally landed on the recipe below. It still required some educated guessing on my part, but the bones of the recipe were sound, and for someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, it was easily followed.
- Quinoa Pilaf
- 4 servings
Chef Watson suggests . . .
- 11⁄4 tsp ginger (I assumed ground)
- 11⁄4 tsp coriander seed (I assumed whole)
- 2 whole ½ onion, diced
- 2 1 whole tomato, diced
- 13⁄4 cup vegetable broth
- 1 whole orange, peeled and diced
- 11⁄2 cup quinoa
- 1 whole serrano Fresno chili, minced (swap made because I had Fresnos on hand)
- 31⁄2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1⁄4 cup, chopped walnut
- 1⁄4 cup dried cranberries
1. Heat vegetable oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onion and saute until golden, about 5 minutes.
3. Add chili; stir 1 minute.
4. Add quinoa and saute 5 minutes.
6. Add vegetable broth; bring to boil.
7. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and vegetable broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
8. Stir in tomato.
9. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
I found it a little worrisome that this is the only mention of salt and pepper, that there was none included in the main recipe. In order to get salt into the food to make the flavors pop, it needs to be added during the cooking process. If you salt at the end, it just sits on the surface of the food. Still, I followed this direction, and sure enough, I had to add a bunch of salt at this point in order to rescue the dish from being completely bland. Even then there was no way I could make it shine the way it would if I’d cooked it with salt. But I digress….
10. Transfer pilaf to bowl.
11. Sprinkle with walnuts and serve.
This surprisingly pretty dish has a great balance of salty and sweet, with the nutty flavor of the quinoa and the savory broth keeping it grounded while the tangy trio of tomato, cranberry, and juicy orange lifts and brightens it. The grain is almost al dente and provides a satisfying pop while chewing, reminiscent of those little bits of caviar that often top sushi. The one thing I would change if making it again would be to use ground coriander instead of whole seed. They, too, pop when chewing, but the initial burst of sweetness they give off is a tad overwhelming, and the finish has a slightly bitter note that takes makes me leery of taking the next bite for fear of chomping down on another.
All in all, this was an extremely successful first attempt at cooking a Chef Watson-conceived dish. I would never have dreamed about putting some of these ingredients together, but they work well, and I couldn’t recommend this recipe more highly. I’m excited to see what more culinary magic I can work with Watson’s help!