Friday, October 4, 2013

Quinoa crazy

Have you discovered how supremely wonderful quinoa is or are you, like me, late to the party too? I recently had my first taste of quinoa and I was blown away. Blown away. Yes I said it twice. I've been eating very little else since, trying to incorporate quinoa in my meals at least three times a week. Too much? No way. 

Here are some things I've recently learnt about quinoa:

1. Quinoa is pronounced Keen-Wah not Kee-No-Wah. 

2. Quinoa is not a grain. It doesn't come from the family of grasses like wheat or barley but rather from the family of plants like spinach and beets! So what is it if not a grain? Quinoa is a seed. And it's super nutritious. Its a terrific source of protein which is important if you too are a vegetarian/vegan and have limited sourced of protein. 

3. Though it has only recently become "trendy", quinoa has been cultivated by the Andeans in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Columbia for over 7,000 years.  

4. It's freakishly delicious. Yes, healthy food has, for some reason, obtained the nefarious reputation for being tasteless and boring but quinoa is just wonderful both flavour wise as well as texturally. Especially when cooked in stock or salted (and herb or spice infused) water - as the seed absorbs the flavours as it cooks. It has a nuttiness and a crunch that's just delightful.

5. There are over 100 varieties of quinoa but what we get are the common trio of the white, black and red seeds.  

6. It takes just 15 minutes to cook (and another 15 minutes to rest!).

7. When not cooked properly, quinoa can have a slightly bitter after taste. This bitterness comes from the coating around the seed which is actually a layer of Saponins, an organic chemical that keeps predators away. How do you get around this? Simple, rinse or wash the seeds thoroughly (as you would rice) before cooking them.

8. You cook quinoa as you would rice: one cup of quinoa is cooked in two cups of water/stock. To enhance it's flavour however, I like to toast the seeds (once they've been rinsed) in a little olive oil for a few minutes. 

9. South Americans actually use quinoa to brew beer. I haven't figures this out but I wouldn't mind having a go at a quinoa beer!

10. I've saved the best for last: it isn't fattening! Whoooopadeedooda. a 1/4 cup of dry, uncooked quinoa has only 174 calories of which 24 are from protein, 12 from sugars and the rest complex carbohydrates, fiber and healthy fats! 

While quinoa can be used as a rice-replacement, I usually just add it to salads.  I used 1/2 cup of dry quinoa for these two salads below.

1/2 cup dry white quinoa
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Place the dry quinoa in a saucepan and wash it under running water, rubbing the seed to wash off the bitter coating. Strain.

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the strained quinoa. Toast in over medium heat for a few minutes. 

Transfer the quinoa into a saucepan and add the stock and heat it on the stove. When the stock starts to boil, turn down the heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. 

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, take the pot off the stove and let the quinoa sit in the covered pot for 15 minutes. Then, using a fork, gently fluff up the seeds so they don't clump together.  

The 1/2 cup of dry quinoa should yield at least 2 cups now!

Warm Broccoli and Corn Salad with Quinoa 
1 cup cooked quinoa
2 cups broccoli florets, blanched in salt water
1/3 cup steamed sweet corn
1 cup green pea shoots
1/4 cup grated cheese 
1 garlic clove, minced
a large handful of walnuts, toasted
2 tbsp Olive oil
salt and pepper

Set aside 1/2 the broccoli to make a pesto. Add the broccoli, cheese, olive oil, garlic, half the walnuts and blitz in the blender to make a pesto. Season with salt.

Add the quinoa, corn, remaining broccoli, pea shoots, remaining walnuts in a bowl big enough for you to toss the salad in. Add the pesto and olive oil and gently toss so everything is coated with them. Season and serve.

Warm Brussel Sprouts, Mushroom and Cranberry Quinoa Salad

1 cup cooked quinoa
6 brussel sprouts, blanched and sliced thin
6 mushrooms (I used fresh button mushrooms)
2 tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute till the moisture leaves the the shrooms start to brown. Add the sliced sprouts and cook for a couple of minutes and season. Remove the vegetables off the heat.

Place the quinoa, cooked vegetables, cranberries and sunflower seeds in a bowl. 
Whisk the mustard and about 2 tbsp of olive oil together in a separate bowl.
Pour the oil into the salad and toss. Season. 

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