By Louise Oliver
Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) has been the subject of many conversations at the Fife Diet recently but given its appearance – it’s no bright veggie! – and apparent similarity to rice, it didn’t spring to my mind as a healthy food. However, FAO have declared 2013 the international year of quinoa, hailing it a super crop due to its abundant health benefits and acknowledging its abundance to the way it has been farmed by the indiginous growers of the Andes. It appears there is far more to this little grain than I had originally given it credit for…
Quinoa will add a hefty boost of complex protein to your diet as unlike most grains it contains all 9 amino acids. For those reducing their animal consumption, or on a meat free diet, this is a great source of protein. If that wasn’t enough, it also supplies you with both iron and calcium, which can be particularly helpful to young vegetarians and is packed with dietary fibre, phosphorus and magnesium. This little seed is truly bursting with power.
The complex carbohydrate provided in quinoa means it takes longer to digest, giving you a longer lasting feeling of fullness as well as maintaining your energy levels. Not only is quinoa gluten free – fantastic for coeliacs or those cutting down on their wheat intake – it is available in flour form or can be roasted and put into your bread or wraps. It would seem there is no denting this salubrious seed’s armour.
This Latin American super seed has successfully been grown in Fife, and seeds are available for you to try and grow your own. In the meantime, and to support Fair Trade, quinoa in various colours is a definite must in my (80% local/20% non-local) food basket.
Now that we have established the benefits of including quinoa in our diet, what should we do with it you may ask? Does this powerful seed require super cooking – no! Fear not. Quinoa is very similar to most other grains in terms of cooking. It benefits from a rinse, then use 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. Bring the water to the boil and let it gently simmer for around 12-15 minutes until the water is absorbed. The quinoa seeds will swell and become translucent and a small germ pops up – this looks like a little curly tail. Then just take off the heat and pop on a lid to let it steam for couple of minutes more.
Quinoa can be used in many dishes as an alternative to rice or cous cous as I did here with the Chunky Vegetable Tagine. It has a slightly nutty taste (this is enhanced when dry fried over a low heat) although like most grains will adopt the flavours added to it. It benefits from a good sprinkling of herbs and a squeeze of citrus – as well as helping taste, it aids the absorption of iron. It’s great if you are short on time as it stores well, allowing you to cook larger batches. It is delicious cold too, so fantastic for leftover lunches.
Quinoa can take centre stage alongside some powerful veggies. This nuttiness was enhanced in this Quinoa, Leek & Mushroom dish. When cooking, it’s worth bearing in mind that quinoa is closely related to greens and in the same seed family as beets and spinach, so pair it with them in a dish like the Super Seed Salad. Also, if you want this seed to sprout you can pop it into a jar with water for around twelve hours and then add to your salads.
This salubrious, satisfying and fairly-traded seed was something that I’m keen on and it can be enjoyed and benefited by all. I will definitely be passing on the secret power of quinoa – a super seed that will see me through the seasons.