Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quinoa - Incan Gold

Quinoa is one of the foods I've been introduced to on this journey, and wow!  Pronounced "keen-wa" for those of you who don't know (I didn't until recently myself), it is Great Stuff.
Flowering Quinoa

"Gold of the Incas" and "the Mother Grain" are just two of its nickames.  From a nutritional standpoint, it is an absolutely stupendous food.  It's one of the ten "superfoods" in the book Ten Things You Need to Eat (one of my new favorites).  Although it is often used as a grain or in place of grains, it is technically a seed, the seed of a plant called chenopodium or goosefoot.  It is one of the few plant sources that contain a complete protein (that is, they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that make a complete protein).  It's also high in protein, containing between 12 and 18 percent.

From a historical standpoint it's interesting as well (history teacher geek coming out here).  It was a staple food for the ancient Incas and its cultivation was ascribed essentially a religious significance.  They recognized its superior nutritional value and gave it to their warriors to increase their stamina.  And, if you remember your world history correctly, these guys conquered the largest empire in the western hemisphere before the arrival of the Europeans (and built Macchu Picchu for pete's sake!).  And speaking of the Europeans, when the Spanish did arrive in South America in the early 16th century, they didn't just disregard quinoa as "indian food," but actively suppressed its cultivation due to its use in non-Christian rituals.  Instead of being allowed to cultivate quinoa, the Spanish forced the Incans to grow wheat.  While they weren't busy enslaving them to work in the silver mines, disembowling them or skewering them on pikes of course.

Francisco Pizzaro, conquistador extraordinaire, looks on as his henchmen
strangle the Incan emperor Atahualpa to death -
after having told the Incan people that he would free the emperor
if they filled the royal hall with gold.  Notice all the gold in the forground -they did as Pizarro commanded.  Oh well, I guess he changed his mind.

And here are the Spanish dealing with the rest of those pesky Incans.
I mean, seriously, didn't they know the Spaniards had "god on their side?"

Like amaranth (another South America grain-like seed), were it not for the continued cultivation of it among the indigenous peoples of the region to the present day, it may have dissappeared from the face of the earth.  And that would have been a crying shame.  It also appears that the United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

That being said, enough of the history lesson - let's eat some of this yummy stuff!


Let's Cook Some Quinoa

Some cooked Red Quinoa
(there is regular "white," black and red quinoa.
My favorite so far is red.)

I've had quinoa a few ways in the past few weeks: Black Quinoa With White Beans, Kale and Thyme; Quinoa With Roasted Root Vegetables; just plain old Quinoa and Beans.  They have all been delicious, but, last week I found a recipe that really knocked my socks off.  It was at least as good as eating that carrot salad after coming off my juice fast - delectable, delicious and slightly addictive.  Even my daughter asked for seconds.  I'm calling it...

Sweet Quinoa Salad With Peppers and Almonds

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup diced peppers (red, yello & orange look good together)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted or raw (could probably use sunflower seeds as well)
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped or golden raisins
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • It seems like some freshly chopped parsely on top would be good, too
Mix quinoa, dried fruit, vegetables and nuts.  Mix dresing ingredients (spices and liquids).  Add to quiona mixture and toss well.  SO GOOD!

Some Notes:
  1.  I sort of eyeballed all the ingredients, and just added as much as I wanted.  Except the dressing, I pretty much stuck to the amounts listed above.
  2. Both times I made it, I've used BOTH the chopped apricots and golden raisins - "so sweet and juicy!"
  3. I like my quinoa a tad bit crunchy, so I cook one cup of it with about 1 3/4 cup of water.  Anywhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups of water will do it, depending on how hard or soft you like it.
  4. I have discovered, for future reference, that 1 cup of raw quinoa makes a little more than 3 cups of cooked quinoa.  Good to know, right?
  5. You can serve this warm or cold.  The first time I made it, the quinoa was still warm, having just been cooked.  The second time, I used the refreigerated quinoa from the night before.  Both were great.
  6. Lastly - I cook my quinoa in my rice cooker.  I have had this thing since my mother got it for me in college.  It seems like this Zojirushi 3-Cup Rice Cooker is the newest model of the one I have.  I love it.  Throw in the quinoa, the water, press the button, and 30 minutes later, voila!!!  Couldn't be easier.
That's all for now -

In advance, I'd like to wish you all a Happy International Year of Quinoa!



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