Right now I’m on a quinoa kick. For those unfamiliar with my new love, this small, hearty grain hails from the Andean region of South America. Cultivated there for at least 3,000 years, quinoa was a favorite of the Incas, who considered it a sacred food and referred to it as “the mother grain.”
Nurturing it is. Packed with essential amino acids, its protein quality and amount rival that of milk. It’s also high in calcium and fiber and lower in carbohydrates than other grains. Eat a serving of quinoa and you won’t feel the pang of hunger for hours. No doubt that’s why many call it “the super grain of the future.”
Nutrition aside, I’m smitten with quinoa’s mildly nutty, herbal flavors. These pair well with both sweet and savory ingredients. Depending upon my mood and what I have on hand, I can just as easily add dried cranberries, apricots or dates, fresh apples and candied nuts as garlic or onions, peppers, and cheese to it.
Although I serve quinoa as a salad or a substitute for rice and couscous, it does have a host of other uses. In Peru and Bolivia, where the bulk of quinoa is grown and consumed, cooks may boil it as I do or add it to soups or stews. They grind it into flour for breads, tortillas, cookies and other baked goods. They also eat it as a cereal and turn it into pudding. Quinoa greens are cooked as vegetables while its stalks are burned as fuel. Seemingly no part of the plant isn’t used.
Before being processed, quinoa, which is actually a seed from the flowering quinoa plant, varies in color from black to yellow or white. Once processed, it becomes a lovely shade of ivory; the exception to this is red quinoa, which, as the name suggests, remains red.
Each tiny seed possesses a slender, white band that unravels during cooking. This band gives quinoa its unique texture and appearance.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
Rinse and drain the quinoa. Place it and the water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and toss the quinoa to separate the grains. Allow the quinoa to cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl whisk together the salt, parsley, vinegar and olive oil. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the garlic and corn and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until hot and just cooked through.
Place the corn, quinoa, tomatoes and pecans in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss again to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to serve.