Life Table Talk

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Quinoa has become the superfoods' darling

Until fairly recently, quinoa was an obscure grain you could only buy in wholefood shops, says Susan Jane White. Now it has become the darling of the superfood set

Susan Jane White

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

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Susan Jane White
Susan Jane White

Ever tried quinoa? This grain is a nutritional darling. I promise it's much easier to cook it than pronounce it. Quinoa (keen-wah) is a mighty South American staple that looks like couscous, only tastes better.

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Unusual for a carb, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids required to make a "complete" source of protein. That's a high-five for gym bunnies and vegetarians.

Just one cup of cooked quinoa will gift you with 10g of protein and a honking 16mg of chest-thumping iron. Little wonder the Incan army marched on it (erm, metaphorically, not literally).

During 2013, quinoa was trendier than Wes Anderson. Rumours of western markets stealing Peru's indigenous food from its own people spread like Chinese whispers, and tormented many a vegan's soul.

According to the United Nations, the opposite is closer to the truth. Our markets have supported the expansion of quinoa farms across tricky, non-arable land. The sort of terrain that quinoa, and little else, thrives on.

So now you know why Alicia Silverstone sleeps so soundly at night.

Mexican-style quinoa

Serves 3-4.

All this grain wants is some good stock, a lick of olive oil and some crushed garlic. That's tasty enough. But, if you fancy making an entire meal of it once a week, here's a smasher to get you started. It serves three ravenous teens or four polite mouths.

You will need:

Just under 230ml (7½fl oz) vegetable stock

100g (4oz) quinoa, rinsed thoroughly

2-3 whole corn on the cob

1 large avocado, roughly chopped

2 red chillis, deseeded and sliced

Good handful of fresh coriander, leaves only

1 medium potato, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying

1 clove garlic, finely grated

Good squeeze of lime

75g (3oz) sheep's cheese, finely grated for sprinkling

Bring the vegetable stock to a rolling boil. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under running water for 3 minutes. Add to the hot stock. Cover and cook – if you like a soft, fluffy grain, simmer for 16 minutes. If you prefer a nutty, al dente texture, go for 10 minutes.

While the quinoa putters away, boil your cobs for 5-10 minutes, or until they are cooked. Slice down the sides of the cobs with a sharp knife to remove the corn kernels. It won't matter if the corn comes off "shoelace style". This makes it look more authentic, unlike the tinned variety (which is also fine to use). In a bowl, toss with the avocado, a few slices of chilli and the super-fresh coriander. Set aside.

As soon as the quinoa is done, spread it over a large plate to cool for 5 minutes. Once it's cool, gloss it up with the extra-virgin olive oil, the finely grated garlic and a touch of fresh lime juice. If the olive oil is added while the quinoa is hot, the result can be ghastly.

Last step? Gently fry the potato slices in a splash of olive oil for 8-10 minutes on a medium heat, until they're translucent and cooked through. This can be done while the quinoa and corn are cooking. A couple of the potato slices may break up in the pan, which is grand, as the smaller, runty bits are always the tastiest.

Add the quinoa mixture to the bowl of corn, then tumble through the fried potato slices. Serve with a sprinkling of sheep's cheese on top and extra coriander leaves, if you have some.

For more quinoa recipes and cooking videos, see www.susanjanewhite.com

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