Growing up on a ranch in eastern Washington, quinoa never entered the culinary picture, nor couscous, rarely rice, not much pasta either. But potatoes aplenty. My father and grandfather grew them which I guess explains it. Food cultures vary from family to family, regionally, and internationally, and time makes a difference too, food fads come and go. An ancient Andean staple, quinoa is hardly a fad, but another of Peru’s culinary contributions to the world, and, it so happens, also the birthplace of my father’s potatoes.
When our teenage goddaughter was here last spring from Ollantaytambo, Peru, she was sometimes nostalgic for home, and especially for certain food. Therefore, quinoa. Indeed, it grows abundantly in the Sacred Valley which is her backyard. Though I’ve included ‘exotic’ grains in my diet for a long time now, Lida refreshed our acquaintance with quinoa. She enjoyed all kinds of American food, but when she cooked in our kitchen she brought Andean roots to the table, preparing chicken soups and stews with quinoa. However, Lida remained unfulfilled when it came to a traditional Andean favorite, Cuy, guinea pig. Our nephew from Peru lived with us for several years and requested Cuy for one of his birthday dinners. He settled for fried chicken.
Food cultures from a ranch in eastern Washington, an Andean village, or my own kitchen, doesn’t matter at the moment. I’m on a twenty-eight day detox diet and much of our habitual repertoire is off limits for the next month – like wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine (!). But, eat all the fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, rice, quinoa, and herbs that you like. Meat some of the time. (There’s variation week to week, but this is the general scheme.) A cleansing fast, it’s strict, but there’s plenty to eat, you just have to get used to it. Reculturize the kitchen.
The irony doesn’t escape me, by the way, that I’m choosing to limit my diet when so many don’t have enough. It’s difficult to escape pretension in matters of food, that the good fortune of birth removes many from direct confrontation with starvation, but often puts us in the moral hot seat. I wish that everything I’m going without these next few weeks could land on someone’s empty plate.
I read that quinoa was so important to the Incan diet that the king planted the first row each year using a solid gold spade. Quinoa is a perfect protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids. It’s higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbs than most grains and has the highest protein content of any grain, 12 – 18%. Plus, as a vehicle for flavor and ingredients, like rice, quinoa is primo. I’ve taken one of my favorite sweet and savory chicken recipes (from an ancient Silver Palate Good Times cookbook, Rosso & Lukins, Chicken with Figs) and converted it into a vegetarian quinoa dish; a second features those trusty roasted vegetables, hazelnuts and any dressing you like; and one more from Grub (Lappe & Terry), features coconut. Served warm or at room temp, they’re delicious and oozing with a healthy vibe.
A few ideas to get you started with perfect protein Quinoa. (Tofu, you’re next.)
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/ The 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.
Quinoa with vegetables: Add any array of roasted and cubed vegetables to the cooked quinoa. Dress with anything you like. For 2 cups of cooked quinoa I combined 3T sesame oil, 1 T rice vinegar, 1 t soy and fresh ginger. Stir it all together and top with cashews. This would be even better with raw or barely cooked vegetables.
Coconut infused Quinoa from the Grub cookbook sounds wonderful though I haven’t tried it yet. Combine 1 C coconut milk with 1 C water and 1/2 t salt in medium saucepan/ Bring to a boil/ Add 1 C quinoa and 1 T dried, unsweetened coconut/ Bring back to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes/ Remove from heat, steam with lid on for 5 more minutes and then lightly fluff with a fork. This can be added to their Smokey South American Seitan stew, or embellished with cashews, scallions and whatever else sounds good.