Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Quinoa Diaries

I don't know about you, but quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") has been one of those rare foods that I've struggled to like. Every so often I'll give it a try...and it's always been disappointing. Until recently, that is.

First of all, a bit of quinoa history, because it's interesting:

Quinoa was first domesticated about 4,000 years ago so it's an ancient grain. It is grown at high altitudes in the Andes mountains of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, and the plants remind me somewhat of amaranth or sorghum. With their long flower stalks, they are quite lovely in a frousy sort of way when in bloom. Although quinoa is considered a whole grain it's actually the seeds that are harvested. It's possible to eat the leaves like you would any greens, but it's the seeds that make it commercially viable. Quinoa is closely related to beets, spinach, and...tumbleweeds! (Fascinating piece of semi-useless information!)

Using Quinoa

The easiest and tastiest ways I've found for using quinoa is to cook the grains thusly:
1) Rinse the quinoa well; drain.
2) Combine 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or broth in a pot.
3) Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
4) Let cool for 5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.

I use cooked quinoa as a salad ingredient (sort of like pasta salad). I cool the quinoa and then add chopped onion, celery, tomato, cucumbers, olives...whatever I have and whatever sounds good. Next, I "dress" it. My favorites are malt vinegar and olive oil, rice wine vinegar and olive oil, or balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I add a bit of salt and pepper to taste, and sometimes I throw in feta cheese chunks. It's good!

Another way to use quinoa is as stuffing for zucchini or bell peppers. Mix together cooked quinoa, cooked hamburger meat, tomato sauce, and spices of your own imagining. (I like to use minced jalapenos, cumin, garlic, oregano, and chili powder.) Stuff parboiled bell peppers or hollowed out zucchinis that have been cut lengthwise, top with cheese, and bake until heated through and the cheese is bubbly.

I haven't tried this idea yet, but I want to mix together cooked quinoa, chopped onions, chopped celery, chopped spinach, a couple of eggs, and maybe a half cup of milk or cream. Then I'll bake it like a quiche (you could use a crust or go crustless) until it's set.

I've been sitting here thinking about using quinoa, and I had to ask myself why I keep trying to like the stuff. There are so many other grains that I'm used to and I like, so why go through this struggle? I think it's because I get such great satisfaction from experimenting and trying new things. Granted, it's nothing earth shattering, but I take great joy in learning, and spending time in my kitchen blesses me as it (hopefully) blesses others.

Experiment! Try something new! Who knows but that it could become a new family favorite.

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