You may have seen it on cafe menus, but for many the question will be – what is quinoa? Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is one of a number of foods that are becoming increasingly useful to a vegetarian diet. As our tastes and culture expand to include a variety of international ingredients, new products such as quinoa gradually enter our culinary repertoire. At first they can seem a bit daunting to use, but through experimentation and experience you’ll be treating them like old favourites.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a crop that originates from South America that is known as a “pseudocereal”. Although it produces what looks like a grain, what you’re actually eating are seeds. It has been domesticated and consumed for thousands for years in its native countries of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Columbia where it is used in a variety of different recipes. It has good nutritional value, containing essential amino acids along with calcium, phosphorus and iron. When cooked it has a mild, slightly nutty flavour and a fluffy texture, which means it often fills the role of white rice or couscous.
How To Prepare Quinoa
Quinoa is generally prepared in a similar way to rice. The first step is to wash the quinoa (although some boxed/packaged varieties will come pre-washed). This is to remove the saponin which aids digestion, and can be done by rinsing the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer under a steady stream of water.
The cooking of quinoa is essentially identical to that of rice – in a 1:2 ratio of water you can bring it to the boil on the stove then simmer, or you can simply use a rice cooker. At this point adding vegetable stock is a great way to create an underlying flavour that will enhance the entire dish. Alternatively it can be prepared sweet with honey and fruit as a breakfast food.
It’s one thing to know what quinoa is, but it’s another to use it. Although it can be largely utilised in the same way as rice, there are many recipes that take special advantage of quinoa and its properties. To get you started, here are some tasty and varied ways to prepare it:
Quinoa remains a culinary challenge for me; I’ve never made anything with it myself that I’ve loved, but out in restaurants the chefs always manage to make it taste amazing! Will experiment with some of these recipes…