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Quinoa–have you tried it?

First, a little blog news: I’ve started, but not yet working much on, another blog, but this one on sewing. Yes, yet another sewing blog on the web. Let’s see how many stories about cutting my fingers with scissors, sticking needles and other sharp items in my fingers and hands and pins in my feet I dare to publish on the web for your amusement. Yes, I’ve bled on many, many textiles. But not the fabulous 1996 wedding dress, thank heavens (blood is a bear to get out of raw silk.)

I’ve bled in the kitchen, too, never in food and have never stuck a knife through my metacarpals. There *is* the matter of the air conditioner motor mount through the bottom of one of my feet, barely missing my metatarsals, but I was about 8 or 9, I think. I can still find the little scar on the bottom of my foot. (Never mind which one.)

I’ve had a LOT of tetanus shots in my life. But I’ve never broken a bone. Yet.

Back to the food discussion while I nibble on the leftover dried cherries from the delicious sausage and acorn squash thing last week. . .I need to get more, I want to make it again. Dried cherries. . .YUM. . . .

One of those things I absolutely love is quinoa. It’s a pebbly grain-like stuff that’s cooked like rice and has long been a staple of health food stores and the veggie crowd. But why would Amy like it?  It’s healthy! It’s gluten free! It’s complete protein! It’s a cure for cancer and high blood pressure!

I’m kidding about that last part. BUT–it really is healthy and a complete protein. I love this stuff, and I don’t even care if it’s healthy. I’d put it up there with chocolate for deliciousness.

Well, almost.

There are a number of jokes about being a native New Orlenian; one of them goes, “you know you’re from New Orleans when you start a pot of rice and you have no idea what’s for dinner.” I quit eating rice, especially white rice, many years ago. If you are looking for something to substitute for rice, keep reading.

I discovered quinoa when I made a fancy stuffed poblano pepper dinner for my “new husband” in 1996 or 1997 when it appeared in a Martha Stewart Living issue. (I had to hunt it down at one of the small, far-flung health food stores in New Orleans–they were few and far between.) It had quinoa and walnuts and goat cheese and I can’t remember what else. I’d never bought poblanos in my life, so it was a big deal for me to make it. It was SO fancy, and I when I served it to King of the Road and went to explain it, he said, “don’t tell me what’s in it. Just let me eat it.” I never made it again, and after four years, I stopped cooking for him (we split), but I did remember the quinoa.

A few years ago a couple of recipes showed up in Suzanne Somers cookbook Slim & Sexy Forever. And that’s how I started eating the stuff again (and no husband around to complain about it, either.)

I tell people about quinoa frequently, but a lot of folks have never heard of it or have no idea what it is, even if they are “into healthy things.” Shame–it’s really tasty when prepared properly, and it’s as easy as that boil-in-the-bag white rice stuff,  not to mention healthier.

So, what is it and why should you consider buying some to try? Well, it’s not actually a grain, it’s the SEED of the grain, but it’s sold that way, both in boxes and in some grocery stores in their bulk sections (like my local HEB.)  Let’s let Purdue explain it a bit better than I can:

Quinoa or quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This crop (pronounced KEEN-WAH), has been called 41 vegetable caviar” or Inca rice, and has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years by people who live on the mountain plateaus and in the valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinua means “mother grain” in the Inca language. This crop was a staple food of the Inca people and remains an important food crop for their descendants, the Quechua and Aymara peoples who live in rural regions.

This annual species is in the goosefoot family and is related to the weed, common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.), canahua (C. pallidicaule Aellen), and wormseed (C. ambrosiodes L. anthelminticum). Possible hybrids between quinoa and common lambsquarters have been observed in Colorado. Quinoa is also in the same botanical family as sugarbeet, table beet, and spinach, and it is susceptible to many of the same insect and disease problems as these crops. Quinoa is sometimes referred to as a “pseudocereal” because it is a broadleaf non-legume that is grown for grain unlike most cereal grains which are grassy plants. It is similar in this respect to the pseudocereals buckwheat and amaranth.

Have you got that? Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Now what?

It’s like this: quinoa is lower on the glycemic index than white rice, and takes a lot less time to cook than the more flavorful brown rice. Watch out, though–if you turn your back on it, the stuff *will* burn on the bottom of the pot, and you’ll have to a) soak it and b) use a liberal amount of Brillo to get the pot clean again. (Never mind how I know that. Brillo is my friend.)

If you have someone in your household who is on any number of diets we have in the US, quinoa may be a part of it (check the diet’s guidelines and, if necessary, your physician to be sure.) Since it’s gluten free, folks with sensitivities may be able to have it. It’s plant-based, so vegetarians and vegans love it. Ancient Harvest has a page with more nutritional information on quinoa.

No, I am not a vegan, vegetarian, or lacto-ovo anything. If you ask me what I like about the holidays, expect me to say TURKEY. Don’t even think of suggesting that other fake-me-out stuff.

Warning: quinoa is, as you might imagine, more expensive than rice, since it’s more of a specialty item. At my local HEB, and on occasions when I go to Central Market, a bulk pound of it is about $3.99; that’s also for organic. (I’ve never bought it boxed.)  I don’t eat it every day, but when I buy it, I’m in the bulk section buying huge bags of it. Since it’s dried, it keeps for quite a while. I have a big glass jar that I use *just* for storing my quinoa supply. I also try to keep it full, so I can have it whenever I want some.

Yes, I want it all the time–but I don’t eat it all the time, honest. Even though I could.

There is also a red quinoa, and I bought a small amount of it at Central Market just to try it. Red quinoa is something like $7 or $8 a pound, and not knowing how I’d like it, I just bought about a half cup or so of it. British cookbook author Nigella Lawson posted on Facebook a picture of something she had in LA with fresh spinach, red quinoa and an egg on top, and boasted how she thought the red tasted better. OK, Nigella says it’s good, I gotta try it, so I did. But I can’t say I share the same sentiment. Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it again one day after doing a little more research.

Now I’m going to tell you what to do with it. The basic cooking directions are here, but what I’ve been doing is one part quinoa, two parts water, and a chicken bullion cube for ever cup of water used. Oh, YEAH! Boil the water, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve, toss the cube(s) in the boiling water, then add the quinoa. Cover, turn down the heat to medium, and cook until the water is absorbed.

Do NOT walk away from it, or you will have a mess–and no tasty quinoa to eat.

Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Weeknights with Giada, has a couple of recipes for quinoa, including one for, no kidding, canned salmon. I can make that one anytime, because. . .I keep buying cans of salmon for emergencies. No garlic, believe it or not, and it’s a bit unusual and quite good.

I also made this Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash last year for Thanksgiving. And for the office luncheon. And for myself. It’s REALLY good, but does fall apart a little when you cut it into slices.

The original Suzanne Somers’ recipe that got me started eating it is called Sauteed Herb Quinoa, and it goes like this:

1 cup dry quinoa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leave parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions (or see directions above.)

While the quinoa is cooking, place a saute pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and shallots; saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the cooked quinoa and the parsley and stir to combine. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve immediately.

If you’re feeling adventurous this weekend, get a small bag of quinoa, or a small box, and give it a try (just don’t BURN it.) You’ll be in for a nice surprise, because it really is tasty and good for you, as well as pretty easy to make.

Happy Dining!

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