Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a grain that I just recently have gotten into using. It's so versatile! It's similar to couscous or rice in the way you cook it - but different than both in texture and flavour. It's got a sort of nutty flavour and really expands from it's original size when cooked. I endlessly forget this and cook more than needed! It's also really good for you, being a whole grain - healthier than couscous actually (which is made from wheat and a sort of pasta really). Quinoa comes from the seed of a weed called goosefoot. Because it actually has leaves and is not a grass, it's not technically a grain (although it's close so it's usually referred to as one). It is actually in the same family as spinach and beets! It's referred to as an ancient grain, having been around for something like 6,000 years - so it's pretty amazing that it's available to us today.
In it's raw form it is coated with bitter-tasting saponin (keeps the birds away from the crops apparently). Although this is most likely removed in processing, it doesn't hurt to soak the quinoa for 5 or 10 minutes, and definitely give it a good rinse as you would with rice. When it's cooked it will not only have expanded, but look translucent and have sort of burst - with what is called it's germ ring popping out. It looks like a little spiral.
If you haven't tried quinoa yet, and I haven't sold you on the idea yet - I can also tell you it is gluten-free, easy to digest, high in fibre and very high in protein. It's actually considered a complete protein as it contains all 8 essential amino acids, which are building blocks for our bodies - and cannot be produced by our bodies so must come from our diet. Needless to say it's great for all of us to include in our diet - but in particular it's beneficial to vegetarians and vegans - and useful for those eating gluten-free.
I've got one salad here, and another similar one I'll tell you about next week. Really you can do almost anything with this that you would with couscous, rice or pasta. For this and the next salad I added a bit more water than I sometimes do and got a cooked result that was a bit moist, which with the combination below - was almost rissoto-like. Less water results in a fluffier version. I added slightly more than double the water to the amount of quinoa this time. You can do this is a saucepan, on the stovetop, or in a rice cooker, as I have done here. I recommend twice the water to quinoa - but try it with a bit more or less to see the different results. Adding broth in place of water is a great flavour-booster.
Kid's Stuff: My one year old ate this right up - sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and all! Great for their lunch and keeps well for several days. I suspect the slightly more moist version appealed to her more (and the cheese and sundried tomatoes are two things she likes too).
The amounts I have listed below are rough - play around with them to suit your taste. I think the fresh-squeezed lemon is the ultimate final touch here - add more or less as you like. I also encourage you to have the parmesan and grater at the table and add more - like you would with rissoto - mmm mmm, so good. Of course omit this if it doesn't suit your dietary needs.
Well, I'll let you get on with reading and hopefully trying out the recipe! Check back next week for my second idea for an easy, fun quinoa dish.
- 1 cup (250 ml) quinoa, uncooked
- 2 cups (500 ml) water
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil, approximately
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) pinenuts, toasted
- 4 to 6 sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
- 1 cup (250 ml) cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 cup (250 ml) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 to 125 ml) fresh parmesan or romano cheese, finely grated (add more at the table)
- salt and pepper to taste
Put quinoa into saucepan or rice cooker and add water to cover. Soak for 5 to 10 minutes. You may omit this step if short on time.
Drain and rinse the quinoa using a strainer/colander, stirring with your fingers as you run the water over the quinoa.
Add the water and quinoa to the rice cooker or saucepan on the stovetop to cook. If using the saucepan, cover, bring the water to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes).
While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the other ingredients - toast the pinenuts, chop the sundried tomatoes, cucumber and Italian flat-leaf parsley, and rinse and drain the chickpeas.
When the quinoa is cooked, remove the saucepan from the heat on the stovetop, or transfer the quinoa from the rice cooker to a bowl, fluff with a fork (if it's a bit sticky you may need to break it up a bit) and let cool.
When cooled, add the pinenuts, sundried tomatoes, cucumber, Italian flat-leaf parsley and chickpeas.
Squeeze half a lemon into a measuring cup or bowl and remove any seeds. Add to the mixture and stir thoroughly.
Add olive oil, cheese (if using) and one or two grinds of pepper and salt. Mix thoroughly. Taste and add more lemon, oil or seasoning to suit your taste.