We bought quinoa a couple of weeks ago, just for fun. We’ve heard so many good things about it, and we felt like, as health-conscious and enlightened citizens, we should check out this wonder grain. First, the preferred pronunciation is “KEEN-wah” (I say “keen WAH” though, because it reminds me of Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movies. I apologize for being an Ugly American, but there you have it). It’s apparently okay to pronounce it all sorts of ways: “KEE-no-ah” and even “KWIN-oh-ah” are okay, too. So, if you ask for it in one of these ways, don’t let anyone try and tell you your pronunciation is wrong. Tomato, toMAHto.
If you’re not in the know about quinoa, don’t worry. You’re only about 5000 years behind the times. Quinoa has been a staple grain in South America forever (well, for at least 5000 years). It’s kind of a cereal, but not really. Cereals are grasses, and quinoa isn’t a grass, but the little seeds harvested from the quinoa plant are often treated as cereals. You cook them pretty much like rice, at a 2 to 1 ratio of liquid to quinoa. Bring to a boil. Turn heat down and cover. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Put in face.
Things I Like About Quinoa
- I like the name. Foods that start with “Q” are fun.
- I like that it’s an American food. Nobody had to cross an ocean and bring it back. In fact, it still grows wild in on the slopes of the Andes.
- I like its sense of humor. Quinoa’s natural defense against hungry birds looking for a cheap snack is to coat their tasty seeds with saponins. Saponins are bitter, and they get foamy if you shake them up in water. Soap. Yum! Anyway, in order to make quinoa palatable, smart humans learned to soak the quinoa in several changes of water before using. In modern times, bored food scientists decided to create a hybrid low in saponins. They succeeded, and in one season, the birds ate ALL the quinoa. Ha!
- I like that it is nutritionally complete. Quinoa has the highest percentage of protein of all grains–18-20%. It also is a complete protein, containing all the amino acids humans need. The Incas called it the “Mother of All Grains,” and it was their second most important food source, behind potatoes. Check out its impressive nutritional stats over at Wikipedia.
- I like how they look. The little quinoa seeds are wee spheres of starchy, proteiny goodness. When they’re cooked, the germ kind of separates from the seed, and they look like Lilliputian bombs. You know, the kind the Road Runner was always handing to Wyle. E. Coyote?! Take a close look at the picture at the top–the germ stands out like a little fuse. Quinoa=nutrition bombs! As much as I’d like to take credit for that last, the beloved came up with it. He’s pretty funny sometimes, that one.
- I like the texture. Quinoa has a pretty neutral flavor, so they are perfect for soaking up all sorts of goodness. The wee round bombs are just the tiniest bit chewy–not nearly as chewy as brown rice, but more interesting than white rice. The fuses are what makes the quinoa, though. They have a little bit more bite, and they sort of pop/crunch in a very wee way when you chew them. It’s this play of smooth/chewy against pop/crunch all on a small scale that make quinoa so appealing, to me anyway.
Here’s what I did with our quinoa–you can do what you want, this was just based on what we happened to have in the house.
Citrus-Scented Quinoa with Tuna
- 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TBSP butter
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 carrot, scrubbed and cut into small dice
- 1 celery rib rib, scrubbed and cut into small dice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 t. Old Bay seasoning
- zest of one orange
- zest of one lemon
- 12 oz. quinoa (we bought the pre-rinsed, boxed kind, although I rinsed it again, just to be safe)
- 24 oz. homemade chicken stock
- 2 small cans TJ’s tuna in water
Here’s what I did:
- Heated pan; added oil and butter; let the butter stop sputtering
- Added shallot, carrot, celery, salt, pepper and Old Bay
- Cooked until vegetables were soft
- Added quinoa and toasted it up for about 2-3 minutes, coating it w/oil the oil and butter
- Added the chicken stock, tasted and adjusted the seasoning
- Brought it up to a boil, covered and reduced to a simmer
- After 15 minutes, added the flaked tuna and stirred it in
- Waited another 3 minutes or so, fluffed up the quinoa and served
I finished the plates with a drizzle of olive oil on each serving and a wee sprinkle of Fleur de Sel. It was delightful.
Today, we bought two boxes–one “regular” and one “red.” The red kind is sort of a faded burgundy color, and I’m looking forward to playing with it. I think I’ll try to cook it like oatmeal and serve it with some cream and brown sugar. Maybe a quinoa pudding patterned after a rice pudding might be nice, too. The possibilities seem to be pretty endless. Once we find a good bulk source for this, quinoa might very well replace brown rice in our kitchen. I feel a little bad about breaking up with rice, but maybe I’m just not that into rice anymore…