Quinoa is another food indigenous to South America, domesticated as a food crop 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. We are seeing more and more recipes using this crunchy, nutritive grain. This tasty salad is easy and quick to prepare.
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) can be purchased in most grocery stores nowadays–and it comes in three colors–black, red and white or a combination thereof. Quinoa, like amaranth, is considered a pseudocereal since neither of them are true grasses. Both are fairly quick cooking and are crunchy, which indicates a good amount of fiber. They also contain protein, carbs and some fat along with vitamins and minerals. They are easy to digest and gluten free.
The tiny grains of quinoa are covered with a protective coating containing saponins and it is important to rinse them well a few times before cooking to remove them or there will be a bitter taste. Many commercially packaged grains have been processed to remove these saponins. Cook them like rice with 2 parts water to 1 part grain. Once you bring them to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. They will still be a little crunchy, though tender and the germ will have uncoiled revealing a tiny white spiral in each grain. Drain well and spread the cooked quinoa out to cool to make a salad, or use as is to make a casserole, pilaf, stuffing, soup, hot cereal, etc. Use anywhere you might use rice or couscous.
The small leaves are edible raw just like grain amaranth, while larger, tougher leaves can be cooked. I am going to try a hand at growing quinoa in next year’s garden.
Below is a recipe for Quinoa Salad that we had for lunch at the Skillet Restaurant for our South American weekend. Use some of the last of your garden tomatoes and chile peppers to flavor this dish.
Ensalada de Quinoa
Chilean Quinoa Salad
Quinoa, a grain used by the Incas, has been a staple food in many parts of South America, though especially the Andes, for thousands of years. It has recently become a popular food throughout the world, partly due to its high protein content. It can be found in white, red or black-use whichever you have or use a combination thereof. Since the tiny grains are coated with saponins, it needs to be well rinsed two or three times in cold water before cooking. It cooks in 15 minutes or so. This recipe was adapted from Chile by Scholastic Books. Use whatever vegetables that you have on hand–this is sort of an end-of-summer salad–use vegetables in season and lightly steam them if need be. This salad can also be served warm; just mix everything together with the warm quinoa rather than letting it cool.
2 cups quinoa, rinsed
4 cups water
2 ripe tomatoes, diced small
1 cup finely chopped onion (red is nice, however any will do)
1 or 2 avocados, peeled and quartered lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
Juice of 2 limes or lemons
About 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
4 large cloves minced garlic
2 hot chile peppers, seeds removed, finely minced (serrano, jalapeno, ‘Aji Limon’)
About 1/3 cup fresh minced cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
Garnish of toasted and coarsely chopped cashews, optional
Combine the quinoa and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until translucent and tender; the little spirals should be visible and the grain should not be hard-tender though a slight crunch. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and spread it out to cool. Season lightly with sea salt. Fluff with a fork.
In another bowl, combine the tomatoes, onions and avocados; sprinkle with the juice of 1 lime and drizzle with about 1/4 cup olive oil and toss to combine. Add the garlic, chiles, cilantro, season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.
Add the vegetables to the quinoa and blend well. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and lime juice and toss; taste for seasoning. Adjust with salt, pepper, and the rest of the oil and lime juice if need be.
If prepared ahead, refrigerate until about an hour before serving. Serve at cool room temperature garnished with toasted and chopped cashews.