I've been eating a lot of quinoa lately. For a long time it was one of those things that I heard a lot about, but had never really tried. I figured it was like rice or couscous, and, well, I already had rice and couscous, why would I need something else? But there's something satisfying about quinoa that you don't quite get with rice or couscous. Maybe it's the slight crunch it offers, or the subtle nutty flavour it adds to a dish. Or maybe it's the protein.
One of the reasons I've been eating so much quinoa, aside from appeasing my curiosity and finding that I really like it, is that's very high in protein. This is always good news when you're a vegetarian, and even better when you find out that it's a complete protein. For those who don't know, a complete protein contains all the essential amino acids in the desired amounts for growth and health, etc., and so forth. If you know your protein sources, you'll know that most complete proteins come from animal sources, whether that be meat, eggs, milk, or what have you. Very few vegetables, grains, or legumes contain the correct proportions of amino acids to qualify. But quinoa is one of them. (So is soy, for anyone interested). On top of that it's high in iron, calcium, and fibre.
And did I mention that it's low fat and gluten free?
Now that I've bored you with the science, let me bore you with a bit of history. Quinoa was one of the staple foods of the Inca of South America. It's especially suited for growth in that climate, with much of the quinoa we eat today coming from Peru. The Inca held quinoa as sacred and called it the "mother of all grains" or chisaya mama. It's still a staple food in a number of South American countries including Bolivia and Ecuador.
Like all my best-loved foods, quinoa is very versatile. It can be used as a side dish, in salads, and even in baked goods. It's also really easy to cook. I'm going to send you over to the Kitchn for cooking instructions, because not only is it the best set of instructions for cooking quinoa that I've come across, they also have a lot of information about quinoa and accompanying recipes.
The first recipe that got me hooked was this salad, containing the asparagus I promised you in my last post.
Asparagus, Tomato, and Quinoa Salad
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
Cook the quinoa according the directions from the site linked above. I would recommend rinsing the quinoa first. It really does make a difference. As someone notorious for skipping steps, I would not recommend skipping that one.
Remove tough ends of the asparagus, blanch in boiling water for about 1 minute, and tranfer to an ice water bath to stop cooking. While that cools, whisk together dressing ingredients.
Toss together cooled quinoa, asparagus (roughly chopped), tomatoes, and basil. Stir in dressing until evenly coated.
And that's it. It keeps well in fridge. As you can see from the picture, I added chickpeas to mine to give it a little more substance as a meal. I also left out the basil, though that was more due to forgetfulness than anything else. I've made it a couple times without the dressing, and it's delicious either way. If you use soup stock to cook your quinoa it adds enough extra flavour to merit skipping the dressing. I also substituted diced red pepper for the cherry tomatoes, because try as I might, I really don't like tomatoes.
This next dish was something I threw together one night for dinner. I had red pepper left over from the salad, as well as chickpeas, and a zucchini in the vegetable drawer. I sliced and halved the zucchini, chopped the red pepper, and sauteed them with some olive oil and rosemary.
Start the red pepper first, as it will take longer to cook, and add the chickpeas and quinoa to the skillet at the end to warm everything through.
And dinner is served. It would make an excellent side to meat or fish as well, if you want to add some animal protein to your meal.
Of course you could use any vegetables you like, or black beans instead of chickpeas.
It's one of my new favourite things to eat, especially when I'm in a pinch for something quick. I like to make a pot of quinoa and keep it in the fridge so I can add whatever I want when I feel like it.
Apparently the UN has declared 2013 the year of quinoa, whatever that means. So, you know, jump on the band wagon. It's pretty great over here. Delicious and nutritious.