Celebrating Quinoa!

It’s a word and food you’re either familiar with or not. Even if you’ve heard it, you might still have trouble pronouncing it. In recent years, Quinoa (pronounced: ki-nwa) has gained significant popularity due to it’s rich nutrient content and delicious taste. An ancient Andean staple, quinoa is hardly a fad, but another of Peru’s culinary contributions to the world. The Incas referred to quinoa as “Chisays Mama” or “mother of all grains”; and it was the Inca emperor who apparently would sow the seeds at the beginning of each year with a solid gold spade.

During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians’, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies. In fact, the conquistadores forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.

Quinoa is actually a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a truecereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family such as rice or wheat. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds.

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), and like oats, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it a complete protein source, unusual among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied spaceflights.

Quinoa with dried figs and apricots, olives and pecans in about equal amounts with fewer of the strongly flavored olives. The dressing, the marinade in the original recipe, is what kicks this one out of the park and creates a lush fruity salad which can be a main dish or side. Dried prunes could be substituted for the figs to keep it local.

Cook quinoa, 2:1 liquid to grain (water, vegetable or chicken broth), for about 20 minutes/ 1 1/2 cups raw make about 3 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa/ Dressing for 3 1/2 C cooked quinoa: 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, 2 T olive oil, 2 T apple cider or 1 T honey,  2 T red wine vinegar, 1/2 t cumin, 1 t dried thyme, 1/4 t ground ginger, salt & pepper to taste. Add dried fruit and olives to this dressing and let sit while the quinoa cooks. When quinoa is done and still has a little bite, remove lid and allow to sit for a few minutes. Drain off any excess liquid, then toss with dressing, fruit and olives. Add 1/2 C toasted, chopped pecans before serving. Best warm or at room temp.

Recipe found at the Mixed Greens Blog.

This week we will be featuring numerous dishes made with quinoa.