Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quinoa

Basic Quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is an ancient food that is not yet well known in North America. It has been cultivated in South American Andes since at least 3,000 B.C. and has been a staple food of millions of native inhabitants. The ancient Incas called quinoa the "mother grain" and revered it as sacred. Each year at planting time it was traditional for the Inca leader to plant the first quinoa seed using a solid gold shovel! Quinoa was used to sustain Incan armies, which frequently marched for many days eating a mixture of quinoa and fat, known as "war balls." Beginning with the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, there was a 400-year decline in the production of quinoa. It became a minor crop at that time and was grown only by peasants in remote areas for local consumption. 
Technically quinoa is not a true grain, but is the seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. It is used as a grain and substituted for grains because of it's cooking characteristics. The name comes from the Greek words, chen (a goose) and pous (a foot). This is due to a resemblance of the leaves of the plant to the webbed foot of a goose. The leaves are lobed or toothed and often triangular in shape. The succulent like plant grows from 4 to 6 feet high and has many angular branches. The flower heads are branched and when in seed looks much like millet, with large clusters of seeds at the end of a stalk. The plant will grow in a variety of conditions but favors a cool, arid climate and higher elevations. Beets, spinach, Swiss chard, and lamb's quarters are all relatives of quinoa.
Before cooking, the seeds must be rinsed to remove their bitter resin-like coating, which is called saponin. Quinoa is rinsed before it is packaged and sold, but it is best to rinse again at home before use to remove any of the powdery residue that may remain on the seeds. The presence of saponin is obvious by the production of a soapy looking "suds" when the seeds are swished in water. Placing quinoa in a strainer and rinsing thoroughly with water easily washes the saponin from the seeds. In South America the saponin which is removed from the quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.
The quinoa seed is high in protein, calcium and iron, a relatively good source of vitamin E and several of the B vitamins. It contains an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids needed for tissue development in humans. It is exceptionally high in lysine, cystine and methionine-amino acids typically low in other grains. It is a good complement for legumes, which are often low in methionine and cystine. The protein in quinoa is considered to be a complete protein due to the presence of all 8 essential amino acids. Some types of wheat come close to matching quinoa's protein content, but grains such as barley, corn, and rice generally have less than half the protein of quinoa. Quinoa is 12% to 18% protein and four ounces a day, about 1/2-cup, will provide a childs protein needs for one day. The 6-7% fat of quinoa is relatively high when compared to other grains, but it boasts a low sodium content and also provides valuable starch and fiber. Quinoa also contains albumen, a protein that is found in egg whites, blood serum, and many plant and animal tissues. The seeds are gluten-free which makes this a nutritious and flavorful alternative grain for those with gluten sensitivity. Quinoa would be a worthy addition to anyone's diet, supplying variety as well as good nutrition. The seed is also excellent feed for birds and poultry and the plant itself is good forage for cattle.
Toasted Quinoa Salad
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley or cilantro
2 sliced green onions
juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime (or 1 - 2 tablespoons of each)
1-1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 cloves minced or pressed garlic
1 teaspoon chili sauce (tobasco) (or use a pinch of cayenne, a few red pepper flakes, etc.)

Rinse quinoa and drain. Put in a pot and dry toast until a few grains begin to pop. Add 1-1/2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool.
Mix carrot, red pepper, parsley and green onion in large bowl. Add cold quinoa and toss to combine, Whisk together lemon and lime juices, tamari, garlic and chili sauce. Pour over salad and combine well. Chill until serving time.
This recipe can be fun. Try throwing in a few fresh raw peas, some fresh raw corn, fresh sliced raw green beans, etc.

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