The South American Superfood: Quinoa

Quinoa is a recently rediscovered pulse which is commonly found in Peru and Bolivia, and can be dated back to the Incas. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) was considered by the Incas as a sacred ‘gold’, with the emperor sowing the first seeds of the season. In Peru and Bolivia, quinoa is commonly used in soups and stews and in Peru, it is used to make the ancient Inca drink ‘Chicha’.

Quinoa is a type of pulse, rich in protein, with a mild, nutty taste. The seeds look similar to millet, but are a pale brown colour, becoming translucent and ringed with white when cooked.

Despite not having consciously tried quinoa whilst in South America, I was very keen to try it.

It is not the most obvious choice of ingredient in this country, mainly because it’s either difficult to get hold of, or it’s not so cheap.

Originally I looked for quinoa in health food stores, due to its rarity and its high nutritional value, but it was quite expensive. However, I eventually found it in the ‘World Foods’ section of the supermarket, but again, its still not cheap. It’s clearly still a delicacy, but I think it’s worth it.

After doing some research I found that, even though South Americans liked to use quinoa in stews and soups, in the UK we like to eat quinoa how we would eat cous cous, or even risotto. Quinoa lends itself to salads, being a great health food, as it has all of the necessary amino acids that we need.

However, I decided to make a type of quinoa risotto, in order to see if the popular Inca pulse could also lend itself to a more European style dish.

Spinach and Goats Cheese Quinoa (serves 2-3)

  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 250g quinoa, rinsed
  • 100g spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 75g mushrooms, chopped
  • 75g crumbly goats cheese
  • White wine
  • Salt and Pepper

First of all, make sure that the quinoa is properly rinsed through. Bring the vegetable stock to the boil, and add the quinoa.

The quinoa should cook until the water is soaked up, and the grains are a soft texture in the mouth. This should take around 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly fry the onions and garlic until soft and golden, adding the mushrooms when ready.

Keeping the quinoa on a low heat, stir in the onions, garlic and mushrooms, and then add a large splash of wine. Whilst the pan is still hot, stir in the spinach until it wilts, and then crumble the goats cheese into the mixture. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

   

The quinoa-risotto fusion worked out wonderfully. The quinoa has such a soft texture that it soaked up the flavour of the wine and garlic, whilst still giving a slight creamy taste. The cheese mixed in with the quinoa made it extra creamy, which is just how the Peruvians would have liked it!

For a super health food, quinoa is so easy to cook with and can be just as versatile as cous cous, but healthier and tastier. So now I know that I can add a bit of ancient Inca gold into my healthy diet. ¡Muy bien!

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