Wednesday 7 December 2016

Rachel Allen gets... Keen on quinoa

Super-nutritious quinoa, which is a pseudo-cereal rather than a grain, is also a complete protein and very tasty, too. Rachel Allen has some delicious recipes to try. Photography by Tony Gavin

Rachel Allen

Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Allen with quinoa - the staple food of the Incas and their descendents. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen with quinoa - the staple food of the Incas and their descendents. Photo: Tony Gavin
Debbie's red quinoa tabbouleh with toasted pinenuts and pomegranates. Photo: Tony Gavin

If there's just one food that seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the last few years, it's got to be quinoa. It's so popular that the UN named 2013 International Year of Quinoa in recognition of its high nutritional content.

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It's hardly surprising that this pseudo-cereal - which is actually a seed related to beets, spinach and chard - has become such a big hit. It's a complete protein and contains more calcium than milk, and it's also a rich source of iron, manganese, B vitamins and dietary fibre.

Naturopathic nutritionist Debbie Shaw (see her delicious quinoa tabbouleh recipe, opposite) who teaches with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, also recommends a quinoa-regular diet to her sportspeople clients. She says that as a complete protein - quinoa contains all the amino acids - it gives a good amount of energy once it's eaten and won't make you sluggish while your body digests it.

Quinoa grows in a rainbow of colours, though the red, white and black varieties are easiest to find here. White quinoa - sometimes called blond, gold or ivory quinoa - is mild in flavour, while black is mild and a little sweet. My favourite, red quinoa, is more nutty, and has a slightly firmer and chewier texture than the others. The cooking of quinoa is the key to its success. It should be cooked with only one and a half of its volume in water (or that amount of chicken or vegetable stock) until it just opens up to release little white curls like a tail; overcooked quinoa will be mushy and bland.

Dress it with a little olive oil and lemon juice or some pomegranate molasses while it's warm, for a great accompaniment to roast chicken or root vegetables. Add crunchy raw vegetables or naturally sweet roasted ones, lots of herbs or spices, and a delicious dressing, and you have a great nutritional powerhouse of a salad, just perfect for taking to work in a lunchbox.

Before quinoa was a food of choice for health nuts and vegans, it was the staple for the Incas and their descendants. There's been quite a bit of debate about the 'fairtrade-ness' of it all in the press. Since 2006, the worldwide demand for quinoa has increased so much that the price has also shot up. It's been claimed that this increased worth hasn't filtered through to the Bolivian and Peruvian farmers, but only to the businessmen buying the crop. I urge you to seek out Fairtrade quinoa when you're buying it at your local health-food shop.

If you won't get through your packet of quinoa in the next couple of months, keep it in the fridge to stop it oxidising and going rancid. Whether you want to rinse it before cooking, or not, is up to you. It's said that it will be bitter if you don't, but I cooked two batches, one rinsed, and one unrinsed, and tasted them side by side. The unrinsed lot didn't taste bitter; if anything, it was more nutty and earthy. The choice is yours.

Debbie's Red Quinoa Tabbouleh with Toasted Pinenuts and Pomegranates

 Serves 8.

You will need:

225g (8oz) red or black quinoa

350ml (12fl oz) of cold water

Pinch of salt

25g (1oz) fresh parsley, chopped

25g (1oz) fresh mint, chopped

110g (4oz) spring onions, white and green parts, chopped

50g (1¾oz) dried cranberries

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pomegranate, cut in half, seeds removed

75g (3oz) toasted pine nuts (toasted in a dry frying pan over a high heat)

For the olive oil dressing, you will need:

50ml (1¾fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon honey

Rinse the red or black quinoa, whichever you are using, in a sieve under cold water for two to three minutes to remove the bitter coating. Put the quinoa in a saucepan with the cold water and the salt and add a tight-fitting lid. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low and cook, covered, for 12 minutes until the quinoa is tender. Turn off the heat, but leave the lid on for 10 more minutes.

To make the dressing, mix the extra-virgin olive oil, the lemon juice and the honey. Add the dressing to the warm quinoa and allow it to cool. Then add in the chopped parsley, the chopped mint, the chopped spring onions, the dried cranberries, the grated carrots, the ground cinnamon and the ground allspice to the cooled quinoa. Mix well and season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tip into a serving bowl and scatter the pomegranate seeds and the toasted pine nuts over the top.

Nutty Quinoa salad

Serves 4.

1 small butternut squash (about 500g (17¾oz)), peeled, deseeded and cut into roughly 5cm (about 2in) chunks

10 sprigs of thyme

50ml (1¾fl oz) olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

190ml (6½fl oz) water, or vegetable stock or chicken stock

125g (4½oz) quinoa

50g (1¾oz) whole almonds, with skins on

100g (3½oz) feta, roughly crumbled into 1cm (less than ½in) chunks

4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. In an ovenproof dish, mix together the butternut squash chunks, the thyme sprigs, and the olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes until the butternut squash is tender and slightly caramelised around the edges. Then remove from the oven and set aside. Put the water or vegetable stock or chicken stock, whichever you're using, in a saucepan on a medium heat, and bring to the boil. Add the quinoa and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is just tender. Put the almonds on a roasting tray and place in the oven. Roast them for five minutes, tossing them halfway through. Remove the almonds from the oven and chop them very roughly.

When the quinoa is cooked, put it in a bowl with the roasted butternut squash chunks, the chopped roasted almonds, the crumbled feta and the chopped fresh parsley. Taste and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary, then serve warm, or at room temperature.

Chickpea and Red Quinoa Burgers

Chickpeas are a good source of protein and they're high in fibre. They are high in Vitamin E and zinc, helping to maintain immunity. They contain isoflavones, which are plant chemicals that mimic oestrogen in the body, helping to reduce pms and helping to protect against breast cancer.

Makes 6-8 burgers.

225g (8oz) cooked red quinoa (see my Tip, above left)

350ml (12fl oz) of cold water

Pinch of salt

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed under cold water

1 roast red pepper, skinned and diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely grated

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1½ teaspoons of ground coriander

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 tablespoons of wholemeal spelt flour or ordinary wholemeal wheat flour

1 tablespoon of toasted pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, coarsely chopped

Red pepper relish, to serve (see recipe below)

To cook the quinoa, rinse it in a sieve under cold water for one or two minutes. Put the quinoa in a saucepan with the cold water and the pinch of salt and add a tight-fitting lid. Bring it to the boil and then reduce the heat to very low and cook the quinoa, covered, for 12 minutes until it is tender. Turn off the heat, and leave the lid on for a further 10 minutes.

Mash the drained and rinsed chickpeas well and add the diced pepper, the crushed garlic, the finely chopped spring onions, the finely grated carrot, the lightly beaten egg, the ground cumin, and the ground coriander. Form the mixture into patties and chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Dust the chickpea burgers with a little of the wholemeal spelt flour or the wholemeal wheat flour, whichever you're using. Shake off the excess flour and dip each bruger into the chopped mixed seeds. Fry the burgers in the warm olive oil until they are golden brown on both sides. Serve them with the red pepper relish, see recipe below.

Red Pepper Relish

25g (1oz) green chillies, deseeded and chopped, or 2-3 depending on size

1 red pepper, deseeded and cut in 5mm dice

200g (7oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 dessertspoon caster sugar

1 dessertspoon soft brown sugar

1 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the relish, put the chopped chillies, the diced red pepper, the tinned chopped tomatoes and the crushed garlic into a stainless steel saucepan. Add the caster sugar, the soft brown sugar, the white wine vinegar and the water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced by half.

Rachel recommends

Yahoo - not only do we now have Irish buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheese, courtesy of the Toonsbridge Dairy in Co Cork, they are now making a fabulous feta-esque number which would be divine in the Nutty Quinoa Salad recipe on this page. Check out your local cheesemongers or farmers' market for Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Greek Style cheese.

Rachel’s tip

If you won’t get through your packet of quinoa in the next couple of months, keep it in the fridge to stop it oxidising and going rancid. Whether you want to rinse it before cooking, or not, is up to you.

It’s said that it will be bitter if you don’t, but I cooked two batches, one rinsed, and one unrinsed, and tasted them side by side. The unrinsed lot didn’t taste bitter; if anything, it was more nutty and earthy. The choice is yours.

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