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Monday, June 13, 2011

Golden Quinoa Pilaf

Quinoa is the grain-like crop from South America. For the town with a similar name, see Quinua, Peru.

Derived from the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name kinwa or occasionally "Qin-wah", Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it was successfully domesticated 3000 to 4000 years ago for human consumption, though archeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5200 to 7000 years ago.

Similar Chenopodium species, such as pitseed goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) and fat hen (Chenopodium album), were grown and domesticated in North America as part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex before maize agriculture became popular. Fat hen, which has a widespread distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, produces edible seeds and greens much like quinoa, but in lower quantities.

The nutrient composition is very favourably compared with common cereals. Quinoa grains contain essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron.

After harvest, the grains need to be processed, in order to remove the coating containing bitter-tasting saponins. Quinoa grains are in general cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Quinoa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), and like oats, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights

Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous.

The first step in preparing unboxed quinoa is to remove the saponins, a process that requires either soaking the grain in water for a few hours, then changing the water and resoaking, or, more simply, rinsing the quinoa in ample running water for several minutes in either a fine strainer or a cheesecloth. Removal of the saponin helps with digestion; the soapy nature of the compound makes it act as a laxative. Most boxed / pre-packaged quinoa, however, has already been pre-rinsed for convenience, and cooking instructions therefore suggest only a brief rinse before cooking, if at all.

A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups (or less) of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for ~15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).

Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavor. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.

Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food mixed with honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes. Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking.

Quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin content. In fact, quinoa has a notably short germination period: Only 2–4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, e.g., 12 hours with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the grains, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.


* 2 cups Quinoa

* 4 cups water

* 1 cup frozen peas

* 1 cup frozen corn kernels

* 1 red onion

* 1/3 cup chopped green onions (optional)

* 1 sprig of curry leaves

* 1 potato peeled and chopped in small cubes

* 6 baby carrots chopped into small pieces

* 1" piece of ginger finely chopped

* 1/4 cup olive oil or any vegetable cooking oil

* 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

* 1/4 teaspoon of asafetida

* 1 bay leaf and 2-3 pods of dry red chili pods

* 1 black cardamom or 3-4 pods of green cardamom

* 1/3 cup of crushed tomatoes

* 2 teaspoons turmeric powder

* 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder or paprika powder

* 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

* 1 teaspoon cumin powder

* salt to taste

* Juice from fresh 1-2 limes (or to taste)

* 1 small bunch of cilatnro leaves finely chopped for garnish.


* Gently wash and briefly rinse the Quinoa in running water.

* Drain and discard all the water.

* Add 4 cups of water to washed Quinoa and bring to boil on high heat.

* Turn the heat to low and cook the Quinoa for 15-20 min or until there is no water remaining and until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it. Set aside to cool.

* While you are cooking the Quinoa you can prepare all the veggies as follows.

* Chop onion, green onions, carrots and potatoes in to small pieces.

* Thaw the frozen corn and peas in microwave for about 3 min without adding any water.

* Peel and finely chop ginger in to small pieces.

* Heat oil on stove, when it is hot add cumin seeds.

* When cumin seeds crackle add asafetida, bay leaf and cardmom followed by curry leaves and chili pods.

* Immediately add both green and red onions, ginger, saute for 2-3 min until translucent.

* Add potatoes and carrots and dash of salt, and turn the heat down to low and sprinkle some water, cover and cook (with occasional stirring) until potato and carrots are tender.

* Add corn, peas and crushed tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 min.

* Add all the dry spices and remaining salt.

* Mix well and cook for 1-2 min.

* Mix and toss cooked Quinoa germ and lime juice to prepared spiced veggies, mix well.

* Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves, you can serve this hot or at room temp.

* If you choose you can also garnish this with sauted/roasted cashews halves/ pine nuts or with fresh pomegranates seeds.

This recipes yields about 6-8 servings. Enjoy :)

Information on Quinoa and the photograph of Quinoa in teaspoon source:

Rest of all he Photographs by Surekha.

Recipe modified by Surekha from a recipes on the bag of Organic "Earthly Choice" Quinoa bought from local Costco store.

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