Food for Thought: Quinoa

It might have a confusing name, and might look a little different to other cooked grains, but quinoa is soon becoming known as a super food. Besides being very good for you, quinoa is a favourite for its delightfully unique texture and fantastic nutty taste. In ancient times Quinoa was dubbed the ‘mother of all grains’, today it has been dubbed the new cous cous for the 21st century and is bringing new light to some old favourite recipes.

Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-wa originated in South America where it was a highly important food for over 6000 years. The Incas referred to it as the ‘mother of all grains’ and held it to be sacred.

Quinoa unfortunately lost popularity in the Western world after European conquest of South America in the 15th century, where different cultures and tastes proved to rule. The Spanish Colonists probably scorned quinoa as it was seen as food for the Indians, and was further suppressed due to its use in Indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.

Quinoa, like buckwheat is technically not a grain although treated as such, but is in fact a seed from the goosefoot plant. The succulent like plant that gets its unique name from its webbed looking roots grows 1 – 2 metres high and has angular branches that flower and produce the seed quinoa.

Today quinoa is gaining popularity for both taste and nutrional value. Quinoa is very high in protein making it a fantastic food for vegans and vegetarians plus being high in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. While also containing vitamin E and B quinoa is gluten free and is easily digested.

Facts and Details
In its natural state quinoa has a bitter tasting coating making it unpalatable. The grains are coated in a waxy mildly toxic compound known as saponin. This bitter coating makes it an undemanding crop to grow as it has a natural defence system during cultivation against pests and birds.

Today quinoa is put through a process where the saponin is removed before it is sold.

Quinoa looks like a cross between a sesame seed and millet, and ranges in colour from cream to reds browns and blacks depending on varieties. These different varieties also vary in taste ranging from very nutty to slightly bitter.

Quinoa's unique characteristics most probably make it popular today. Once cooked quinoa has a fluffy texture like cous cous. Its favourable characteristic is that when it cooks the outer germ around each grain twists outwards forming a little white spiral tail. The grain itself is soft like cous cous, while the tail is crunchy creating a great combination of textures.

Unfortunately as far as we know quinoa is not yet grown in Australia even though it is an undemanding crop to grow, needing well drained soils warm climates and a long growing season. The quinoa we buy at health food stores comes from Bolivia where 90% of the grain is organically certified.

How to Cook
The simplest way to cook quinoa is to treat it like cous cous. There should be a ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa.

Cover the quinoa with water, I personally like to add a zest of orange to create balance between the earthinesses of the grain and enhance the nutty flavours. Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until you can see the germ sprouting. Leave to stand for five minutes and fluff up with a fork.

When quinoa is cooked it should have a similar bite to it like risotto and al dente pasta.

Once cooked quinoa is great to add to salads, especially in replacement of cracked wheat in tabouleh and is a great substitute to rice.
Other uses for Quinoa
Quinoa flour: is a great alternative for gluten free baking. For simple gluten free all purpose flour mix four parts quinoa flour, two parts potato starch, one part tapioca starch and two parts rice flour. Mix to combine and store in an airtight containers. To use replace normal flour with gluten free flour.

Quinoa Sprouts: Quinoa seeds can be easily sprouted and eaten raw in salads and sandwiches. To sprout a quinoa seed simply soak one third of a cup of quinoa in a jar with water for two to four hours. Drain and rinse the seeds twice a day for two to four days, or until the sprouts are one inch long.

When the sprouts are one-inch long place them on a wet cloth near a window for sunlight to hit. Make sure the cloth is always damp to keep the sprouts crunchy and green. Simply cut to use.

Quinoa Pilaf

Pilafs originated in Iran, Central Asia, India, Turkey, and the Caribbean where each region used very different ingredients but all maintained a similar cooking method. For this reason there are not many traditional pilaf recipes leaving ones inspiration to create new flavours.

Quinoa pilaf is a fantastic alternative that adds extra depth to this dish. Feel free to add other ingredients such as chicken, beef or seafood. Pilafs are great to make for large crowds and a great eaten warm or cold.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped finely
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped including the green tops
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 green apple, sliced thinly
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Heat oil in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and sweat until soft. Add the spring onions, cinnamon and quinoa. Cook, stirring until all grains are glossy.

Add the water, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and allow to cook until the quinoa germ has sprouted or the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for five minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and fluff up with a fork. Season with lemon juice and olive oil. Before serving, scatter with thin apple wedges and almonds.

Serves 4

Chermoula Style Quinoa Salad

Chermoula is a marinade used in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking. It is often made of a mixture of coriander, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, spanish onion, chilli, pepper and salt. In this salad I use the ingredients of the traditional marinade to build up the salad.

This salad is great with grilled fish, and meats and is a perfect salad to bring to barbeques and picnics.

1 cup cooked quinoa (follow steps above)
1/2 spanish onion, chopped finely
1/2 bunch coriander, chopped roughly
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lemon juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 birds eye chilli, seeds removed and chopped finely
1 avocado, cut into small cubes

Cook the quinoa following the method above. In the meantime mix the onion, tomatoes and herbs in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together the lemon juice, olive oil chilli, garlic, cumin salt and pepper.

When the quinoa is cooked and still warm transfer to the bowl with onion, tomatoes and herbs. Toss together with a fork. Add the dressing and avocado and toss once more.

Serves 4 as a main salad or 8 as a side salad.




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