Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back From Hiatus (and How to Use Quinoa)

Wow... it's been more than 3 months since I last posted, so I'm happy to see no one's left my little clique of followers. Thanks to my sister Kelly for reminding me to get back to it. Here's something I started way back then but never finished.


Quinoa cooks like a grain but technically is a dried fruit.

It has more in common with amaranth and buckwheat, but you cook it almost like you would rice. As a busy dad, it's a versatile whole food ingredient that helps keep things simple and kid friendly without resorting to the usual starch and cheese belly bombs (not that there's anything wrong with that every once in a while).

For such a delicate, subtly flavored substance, quinoa packs a ton of protein (WholeHealthMD) -- about 11g per 1/2 cup (dry) -- including the amino acid lysine, absent from most grains. So the stuff's really good for you, but it's also easy to cook, tastes great and simple to incorporate into a wide variety of dishes: I've used quinoa in place of oats for veggie burgers and used it as stuffed pepper stuffing, but mostly served as a main dish with complementary ingredients centered around a cultural theme.

It's always a good idea to rinse quinoa before cooking, as it may still have traces of a bitter, protective coating that's usually mostly dealt with before it gets to the store. I haven't tried it yet, but some say lightly toasting the grain first on a skillet gives it a nice flavor.

You cook the quinoa itself by boiling it in twice its volume of water. Got one cup of quinoa? Use two cups of water. Then I just add the other ingredients, almost like cooking a garden-variety Indian dal dish (usually lentils first cooked in water, with fried spices, garlic, onion, maybe some peas, curry sauce).

So far I've only done two varieties -- Indian curry and Mexican/southwestern -- but an Italian variety would work, too. I've never actually paid attention to amounts when making these, since one of the main benefits of this dish is its simplicity and ability to incorporate dry and/or canned ingredients (of course fresh is best), ideally a healthy whole-food meal that's accessible and versatile.

So after you cook (or while you're cooking) say two cups of quinoa (dry measurement), which should be enough for a family of three or four, simply add the other stuff.

Indian Curry
  • 1 white or yellow onion, chopped or pureed
  • 3-6 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1-2 T. vegetable oil, ghee, or oil/butter mix
  • 1-2 T. curry sauce (not to be confused with Thai curry paste)
  • salt (to taste)
  • can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), can of tomatoes, handful of raisins or 1/2-1 cup of frozen peas, roasted cashews -- the ingredients on this line item are all options and it can be as simple as just using the preceding six.
Heat the ghee, oil, butter/oil in a medium pan on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, make sure they sizzle and cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic for another minute or so, then the onion until it's translucent. Dump this mixture into the cooked quinoa, add the curry sauce and salt, anything else you may want to add, make sure it's thoroughly blended and heated up. Serve (garnish with fresh cilantro if you have it).

  • 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 3-6 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1-2 fresh tomato(s), chopped, or canned tomatoes (avg. sized can)
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 T (or to taste), chili powder
  • salt (to taste)
This one is even more straightforward. Add the onion, garlic and tomato to the cooked quinoa and let it simmer for (uh, I'm really guessing here) 10 minutes or so? Just so that the onion and garlic are softened and, well, cooked. Then you can add the beans, corn, spices and salt. Cook for a while longer, until it's right (gotta taste it as you go).

Anyway, quinoa's a great vegetarian staple and is not soy (which we've recently limited to just tempeh).

I have a lot of catching up to do, so I hope to be posting again real soon.


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