Thursday, April 15, 2010


Quinoa has come to light on a lot of menus across the nation lately. We’ve used it on specials over the past two years so I’d like to think we are riding the crest of this specific culinary wave. I have known only a few things about quinoa until deciding to write this post, and its correct spelling has often eluded me. Ok, it’s a grain……..wrong, and that’s where my knowledge stopped. Let me share with you what I’ve learned.

Quinoa is a seed of a plant that is closely related to beets and spinach. Quinoa greens are edible, but do to the overwhelming un-popularity of the hardy quinoa seed the greens are very very hard to find. Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America and has been an important food crop for over 6,000 years. Unfortunately quinoa has a relatively long growing period and when grown in over fertilized soil it tends to accumulate high amounts of nitrates. Peru commands over half of the quinoa market to date at over 32,000 metric tons. Very little of it is grown in the U.S. although in the past quinoa was a hearty crop on the eastern seaboard before maize agriculture became popular.

Quinoa is about 15% protein thus a good source of such, especially for vegetarians, and is an unusually complete protein source containing a balanced set of amino acids, specifically lysine, which are almost non-existent in wheat or rice. Quinoa is also gluten free, yet can be ground into a flour consistency.

Let’s get cooking…. Quinoa can be cooked very much like rice. You can even cook it in a rice cooker if you like. It takes about 15 minutes at a simmer to be completely cooked. Using just water and salt gives you a nice nutty flavored end product that is light and fluffy. You know the quinoa is done when it ‘grows tails’ meaning when fully cooked the seeds open and look like a twisting tail has come out of the shell. It is not easy to overcook quinoa, unlike rice, so don’t fret.

Recipe for Quinoa with shallots, sweet corn and artichoke

Six shallots

One cup quinoa
Two cups water/vegetable stock/chicken stock

One cup corn kernels
One 8oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

Caramelize the sliced shallots in butter until golden brown. Add quinoa and liquid, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add corn and artichokes, salt and pepper, and taste.

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