Saturday, 30 October 2010

Quinoa - a eulogy

I have realised that many people aren't sure what to do with Quinoa. For a start they are put off by the fact that this lovely word is actually pronounced Keenwa, though I don't see why we shouldn't rise up as a people and declare that we will say it the way it is spelled.

I use a lot of quinoa as it has all the essential amino acids. It is, in effect, a complete protein, a bit like having beans on toast, or meat. It is quick to cook compared to brown rice, easier and more forgiving in technique than white rice, and goes with a wide range of flavourings. My husband is put off by the acrid taste it can have, but I have found that if you rinse it before using it this flavour vanishes. To cook it whole just put a little over twice the volume of water to quinoa (I use an espresso cup full for me) and cook over a gentle flame until it has absorbed the water. When it is cooked it will have a visible white line that seems to separate off - there is nothing wrong with it, so don't assume you have done something terrible and throw it away.

I use it on cold wintry days instead of porridge ( I don't eat oats). I serve it with apple sauce, raisins and cinnamon, with a touch or sugar, or, for preference, agave syrup.

It is great with roasted winter vegetables and a spicy tomato sauce. It is good with a vegetable curry when you want to increase the protein of the meal.

It is a good cous cous substitute, dressed with vinaigrette or other salad dressing and loaded with feta and olives or any other intense flavours you like. This works well as a lunch box salad, as it gets better as it sits.

It is also good for baking. I make flatbreads from it as well as using it in cookies and crispbread. It gives a flexible high-protein bread, especially if combined with tapioca flour. You can buy quinoa flour but this does get that unwelcome flavour I mentioned. Instead, rinse whole quinoa and dry it in the oven. Grind using a flour mill or other grinder to a flour. Mix with water to a stiffish dough and roll into flat circles. If this feels like too much work, get a tortilla press- the plastic ones work well and are cheap. To make life easier get a sheet of the silicon baking material and cut two circles the same size as the press. Place one in the press, put a floured blob of dough on, place the other circle of silicon on top and press. Open the press, rotate the dough sandwich a bit and press again if you think it needs evening out. Place on a hot griddle and cook on both sides.

If you look at websites about making tortilla they will say place the dough in a sandwich bag to make it easier to handle. This is a much messier solution that is also more wasteful as you need a new bag when they distort or tear. I am still using the same two circles of silicon as I did when I started a couple of years ago, and they were cut out of a sheet that was getting too ragged for normal baking use. The other advantage of the silicon is that you can place the breads on the griddle even if they are a bit stuck as the silicon doesn't melt instantly the way a plastic bag would - in fact the silicon makes this easier to handle at each stage.

The crispbreads I have a recipe for elsewhere on this blog are made with quinoa and urid and polenta flour. Adjust your mix to get the flavours and textures that you want.

Don't be afraid of the quinoa. It is an easy to use, nutritious food that is very versatile.

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