Wednesday, February 28

It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's a Super Grain.

We are a culture obsessed with rankings. From the 50 Most Beautiful People to the 10 Best Places to Live, we are bombarded with lists that tell us what is the "best" of everything. Food is no exception; I’ve lost count of the articles I’ve read about “superfoods.” You know them—they're the low-fat, high-protein, antioxidant-rich foods. While blueberries always seem to nab the top spot, quinoa is slowing gaining ground. And it’s easy to see why.

Quinoa is a high-protein grain that contains all 8 essential amino acids (a rarity in vegetarian foods) and is indispensible when you're trying to tone your arms. It's high in fiber, magnesium, and iron; plus it's gluten-free. And suprisingly, quinoa is as delicious as it is nutritious.

The first time I went to the market looking for quinoa, I asked the Birkenstock-wearing girl working in the bulk section, "Do you have kwi-NO-ah?"

"Do we have what?” she asked, perplexed.

“Kwi-NO-ah” I said again, “it’s a grain."

“How do you spell it?” she asked.

“Q-U-I-N-O-A,” I replied.

“Oh!” she giggled, “You mean keen-WAH.”

“Sorry?” I asked.

“It’s pronounced keen-WAH," she said. Then she proceeded to give me a lesson about Spanish pronunciation, the exploitation of the native peoples of Central America, and the hegemony of the West, ending up with something about Dick Cheney and Halliburton.

Thankfully, I had a bin of steel cut oats to lean on during her talk. When she finished, I asked her, "So which aisle is the quinoa in again?"

Leaning over to pick some steel cut oats off of my fleece jacket, she said, "Oh, we don’t carry quinoa here.”

Fortunately, my old standby, Trader Joe’s, does.

Although it is sometimes substituted for couscous, quinoa is fluffier, nuttier, and crunchier. Like couscous, it is versatile — I use it in everything from salads to soups to stuffings. When I saw this Inca Quinoa Salad from Nirmala Narine’s cookbook In Nirmala’s Kitchen: Everyday World Cuisine, I knew I had to make it.

Why Inca Quinoa Salad? Because the Incas were the first to cultivate quinoa and considered it sacred, even calling it “chisaya mama” which means “mother of all grains." So, it looks like quinoa was on the list of superfoods 6,000 years ago.

So just how super is quinoa? Well, I’m not claiming that you’ll be able to leap over tall buildings after eating it, but it might help you add an inch to those biceps.

Inca Quinoa Salad

Makes 4 side or 2 main servings.
Print recipe only here.

¼ c extra virgin olive oil (I used a little less than 1/8 c)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 small shallot, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, chopped
4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup water (maybe more if needed)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
12 endive leaves
Sea salt

To prepare quinoa:
Pour the uncooked quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve; rinse and drain. (This helps remove some slight natural bitterness from the grains). In a small saucepan, add quinoa and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer, and cover until all of the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. (If the water has evaporated before the quinoa is cooked, just add a bit more.) The quinoa will be done when the grains have turned partially white, and the spiral-like germ of the grain is visible. They should maintain a slight crunch when eaten. This will yield about 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa.

In a small skillet, sauté garlic and shallots in olive oil over medium heat, about 2 min. Add the jalapeno and curry powder; heat another 2 min. Remove from heat; let cool. Place in a bowl, and add cooked quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Toss to coat well. Serve in endive leaves or eat on its own.

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Rachel said...

So, that's how you say it!

Pille said...

I discovered quinoa last year, and loved its subtle nutty flavour! Your inca salad sounds delicious - and I've still got some quinoa that I brought along from Scotland:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan. My first time here and I love it. I am vegetarian and always in search of healthy food packed with proteins. I have never heard of quinoa. wonder why? But hey! great post and thanks for all the info and ofcourse the recipe. Looks lovely.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Yum yum yum -- I've got Trader Joe's quinoa in my pantry, too! This salad looks delicious. Here in snowy Rhode Island, I'll probably do one with dried fruits until we have great in-season produce again. Thanks for the recipe and the inspiration!

Lisa Johnson said...

LOL! That is hilarious! All that information, but they didn't have it.

I've heard of quinoa, but never tried it. I had no idea it was so healthy - so much proteein! And it's so pretty too! It looks like little pearls. I'll have to add it to my Trader Joe's list.

bazu said...

{giggle} I remember having to learn to pronounce it too. I love quinoa, and your dish looks so good. For some reason, I often forget to use it, but then when I do, I'm really happy. In conclusion, quinoa occupies a strange black hole in my culinary imagination!

Anh said...

Susan, thanks for this enlighted post. I have never heard of Quinoa, but after reading this post, it will be on my must-try list!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Susan! I loved your story about the Birkenstock-clad clerk and her "healthier-than-thou" attitude.

My daughter recently taught us an amusing term for that crowd: Birkensockers. Not only are they wearing the Volvo of sandals, they've got socks on with them. When I see that, it's my signal to turn and run.

Anonymous said...

It's a sign....Heidi at 101 Cookbooks just did a post on quinoa.I commented I never tried it and hope to be able to find it...A TJs just opened by me...Signs everywhere...I am thinking a yummmm is coming soon to my kitchen! Thanks!

Rachael said...

Mmmm, I feel like grains are the topic of the week around the food blog world (or the ones I frequent). This salad sounds very interesting... and I also just stocked up on a variety of nuts and grains, determined to learn more about how to cook them in interesting ways. Here's a great recipe to start - thanks!!

Gattina Cheung said...

Oh don't let my husband starts on sounds of (foreign) names... anyway, I haven't had quinoa (or her keen-wah), after seeing a few wonderful dishes including this one, I really want to taste! I'm missing something good!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I've never had quinoa but heard so much about it I want to give it a try.

Your dish looks delicious, the ingredients you mixed are wonderful!

Don't you just hate it when people start lecturing about stuff you are NOT interested in? :S

Jeanne said...

I *do* know how to say it but have had no inspiration as to what to do with a box of the stuff lurking in my cupboard! It was bought in a fit of "OMG, gotta get some more whole grains into my diet!" and that's as far as it got ;-) Thanks for some great-sounding recipe inspiration!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Rachel-Yup! :)

Pille-Hope you try it!

Hema-Thanks for the kind words and for dropping by! It really is delicious, so I hope you check it out!

Lydia-Mmm with dried fruits...sounds perfect for a snowy day.:)

Anali-Glad it made you laugh! You gotta love TJ's.

Bazu-Sometimes I have to search my cupboards to remind myself what to use again!

Anh-You're welcome! Hope you give it a try.

Terry-I do wear Birkenstocks occasionally. But never with socks. Birks of any sort are a rare bird here is Southern California. ;)

Chris-It's fate! Looking forward to your future post on quinoa.... ;)

Rachael- Fantastic!

Gattina-It really is good!

Patricia-It really goes well with so many different ingredients.

Jeanne-You're welcome! Since it's so versatile, try it with ingredients you like!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, one of those grains that I've heard about but am yet to actually try! I'm trying to tone my triceps but I'll let my brother know about this wonder-grain's bicep building ability ;)

Anonymous said...

I have used quinoa before but not for a while. One time I cooked it i loved it, the next time, I think I overcooked it and didn't care for it. I will have to give it another whirl.

Mishmash ! said...

Hey Susan, howdy? I always enjoy reading ur write ups as some of ur ingredients are foreign to me...I liked the pics too :)

Good Day!

J said...

As usual nice write up! :) Quinoa - no I haven't heard it, but the picture makes it seem familiar. Maybe its known by another name locally here! Thanks for the recipe.:)

Brilynn said...

I've never had quinoa, but it's popping up everywhere lately, I need to hop on the bandwagon...

Mikaela said...

We buy quinoa by the five-pound bag and even use it for breakfast (like oatmeal). In addition to being super nutritional, it's super fast to cook. Convenience is probably the real reason why we eat so much of it - shhh! :P

Your salad looks yummy, I love the pretty green and red touches :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

A wonderful grain to discover. Great write up.
Beautiful salad

Linda said...

are you reading my mind!? ive been STARING at the quinoa in my cupboard for days wondering what to do with it next. thanks!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Susan, Great story. I guess some grains get better with age!

Toni said...

I love quinoa and haven't had it in ages. I also love the way it looks - those sweet little curliques on each grain. Thanks for the inspiration!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Ellie-Yup, my shirt sleeves are getting a bit tight. ;)

Kate-Yeh, it's definitely better al dente.

Shn-Aw, thanks so much!

Jyothsna-Thanks a lot! Maybe it is called something else.

Brilynn-Definitely, hop on!

Mikaela-Cool! I've never seen a 5-pound bag before. Thanks!

Tanna-Thanks for your kind words!

Linda-Ah-ha, I do have magical powers...;)

T.W.-Thanks! Glad you liked it!

Toni-You're welcome!

Anonymous said...

I would have pronounced it kwi-no-ah too! :O thanks, tt's good info!

Asha said...

I have seen this Quinoa in my blogs these days,I have to get some and try.Inca Salad looks great,we are going wayyy back in time,aren't we? :D

Lis said...

har! I was pronouncing it like you were! I've read so much about it but have yet to cook with it. My secret BBM partner sent me a package of it that I look at every single day but haven't torn into yet.. I really like the sound of this recipe, maybe it'll be the one that will finally inspire me to break that bag open? hehe Beautiful pictures!

wheresmymind said...

I love whole grains, but this stuff is always the 'step too far' for me

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Super and also grainy. Looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, I too love quinoa, and made the same pronounciation mistakes until I heard someone talking about it and pointing to the packaging at the store... I was like wha??
Your salad looks fresh and delicious - reminds me of spring or summer!

s'kat said...

Great story! I used to say it as 'quinn-oh-ahh'. I'm not a huge fan of couscous, but this stuff really does it for me.

Fun in the mouth, and fun to say!

Melting Wok said...

wow, like mini pearls of the orient preety, hm..I've noticed the keen-wah needs less water than cooking brown rice, this should be easy. I haven't tried them before, how is the texture ?

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite grains, of all. We used to eat it all the time while growing up! Too bad it is not more popular, with many people not knowing about it. In Peru, it is the staple grain!

sher said...

Those are some of the prettiest pictures of quinoa that I've ever seen. Each little grain stands out. I love quinoa so I will certainly use this recipe! Thanks!

Stella said...

Hi Susan,
I have to tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts but your titles as well!
Never saw quinoa before, they look slightly like bulgur wheat don't they?
I wish I could taste your salad!:)

Connie said...

i'm glad quinoa is finally getting its due! while i'm not a fan of calling things a 'super' anything, but it is quite the amazing grain!

MeloMeals said...

Lovely post.. I am so inspired.. a spicy mixture in endive leaves! Beautiful...

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Tigerfish-Oh, I hope I saved you from a similar fate then!;)

Asha-Waaay far back in time!

Lis-It's fate--you've just gotta try it now! :)

Jeff-Well, that just means for us quinoa-lovers. ;)


Gilly-Glad to hear I'm not alone! :)

Skat-*giggle* :)

Shirley-The texture is slightly crunchy, but not as chewy and and dense as brown rice.

Bea-Let's hope food blogging will give quinoa some positive publicity!

Sher-Thanks so much! Hope you like it!

Valentina-Thanks! It's so nice hear you enjoy reading my posts. I wish I could give you some. :)

Connie-How about a 'lil super then? ;)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Melody-Whoops! We were commenting at the same time! I'm so glad you're inspired--hope you try it!

Rachel Rubin said...

I've been seeing recipes for quinoa all over the place but have yet to see it at my grocery store so I have never pursued any of them. But seems like fun to try something new like that.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Try an organic grocer like Whole Foods or Wild Oats.

Julie said...

Ah, go ahead and say kee-know-ah. It's LA and anything goes. Welcome to SoCal! Maybe we'll run into each other at Farmer's Market (I'll be in the pupusa line...)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Hey Bad Home Cook-Thanks for stopping by and the welcome! I'm always at some farmers' market or another.

Susan G said...

Once you've got the hang of quinoa, try brown quinoa -- same stuff, a nice color to use as a bulgur look alike. Either way, great grain to cook when you come home from work since it's ready so fast. Here in Keene (NH) I tell people its name sounds like "Keene water." Thanks for the fresh direction.

Chef Erik said...

Yum, sounds great!

Anonymous said...

just to clarify, it's technically a seed, not a grain. so paleo diet people can feel okay about eating it too. cheers.

Unknown said...

Love this blog post! I say some of the same things in mine about Fair Trade Certified quinoa from Boliva: Cheers, R.Lee

Devon said...

This picture is great. I am a thirteen year old girl and I am doing a report on Incan food with a group. We will be using this picture because it is so beautiful!