Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Before Quinoa Was Cool

Along about the time I got married, I got on quite the health kick, eschewing all foods I deemed to be unhealthful, and cooking with strange ingredients that I had to seek out in certain health food stores that were so granola you practically had to have armpit hair and wear Birkenstock's to be granted entrance. Notice I said practically...One of my favorite grains to prepare, along with the requisite brown rice, was (and still is) quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). Isn't there a song about that?

I ate quinoa, before quinoa was cool....

I love its soft and tender texture and its malleability of flavor. The fact that it is so good for you is like a bonus. And it's so much easier to find these days, so if entering a patchouli-scented, twilight zone of 'happy' people with dreadlocks isn't your idea of a good time, you can probably find it at your supermarket...or at Trader Joe's.

Though quinoa is prepared as a grain, it is actually a seed. People have been consuming it for upwards of 6000 years and it was so important in Incan culture that they called it chisaya mama or mother of all grains. It's high in magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and fiber, and is also a fantastic source of protein (12-18%). Because it is coated with bitter saponins, it is a very hearty plant, and is rejected my many birds and other animals who might otherwise consume it. But that also means that before it is cooked, quinoa must be thoroughly rinsed.

This is amazing photo (from Wikipedia) is quinoa up close. The individual seeds are tiny, about half the size of a grain of rice, and as they are cooked, the germ separates from the seed, leaving each with a tiny curly-cue. Not unlike couscous or rice, quinoa can be served up as a pilaf, in a stir-fry or as a salad, like we enjoyed tonight. Its mild and nutty flavor also lends itself well to being a breakfast cereal, like oatmeal, and would be fantastic studded with dried or fresh fruits, nuts, and drizzled with a bit of honey.

This recipe is adapted from Cythia Lair, who authored a once favorite cookbook of mine, Whole Foods for the Whole Family.

Quinoa Salad
serves 2-3

1 C quinoa
2 C water or stock (vegetable, chicken, mushroom are fine)
3 carrots, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
juice from 1/2 a lime
2 T soy sauce
1 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated
salt and pepper

Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine sieve under cold running water. Drain well. Heat small sauce pan over medium heat. Add quinoa and stir occasionally until quinoa is dry and beginning to get a bit toasty (5 min.). Add stock, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 min. Take off heat, uncover, fluff with a fork, and add scallions and carrots. Return lid and let sit for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic and toss well. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature.


Ann @ Cooking the Books said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE quinoa. The texture is so delicate, and of course I love that it's so good for you.

I make a quinoa pilaf very similar to yours, but I put in lots of fresh, grated ginger. Together with steamed broccoli, it's a great side dish.

Alison said...

That is a fantastic idea. I was also thinking of tossing it with some Thai cucumber pickle dressing that I make with vinegar, sugar and chile garlic paste. Yum!! And I recently saw a recipe for stuffed peppers with quinoa and cheese filling that sounds many possibilities, so little time. :)

AndeanNatural said...

great post! I love quinoa as well. So much that it's all I do: import quinoa from Bolivia and get it to food companies and distributors. Not many people know this, but by buying quinoa you are also contributing to the economies of small indigenous family farms in the andes

Alison said...

Great point AndeanNatural! Thanks for your comment.