As you’ve heard time and time again, many people start the New Year with new diet resolutions. While we know you shouldn’t put all your eggs into one basket, a single ingredient has been chosen by the United Nations as a highlight for the year ahead. The U-N Food and Agriculture Organization has named 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa, recognizing its incredible nutritional value as well as the indigenous people of the Andes who have cultivated and preserved this seed for generations.
It’s not like quinoa is brand new to the North American market…but it is a great source of fibre, iron, calcium, and B Vitamins. It is also gluten-free, in this era of growing gluten intolerances, and it can also be counted as a vegan ingredient. It has really taken off here in North America over the past few years and seems to turn up in almost every pot-luck dinner I go to these days.
I have to confess that I am not fond of ingredients that turn up everywhere, just because they are trendy, and especially since most of the quinoa I’ve eaten has been in some sort of stodgy salad. I also already have too much iron in my blood, thanks to my Mediterranean heritage, so it’s not like I need the iron in it. It can also be expensive, about $5 a pound. To try to get over my problems with quinoa I met with Carolyn Hemming, who along with her sister, Patricia Green, has written the Quinoa Revolution cookbook, with more than 150 recipes. This is the follow-up to their wildly popular Quinoa 365 cookbook, which I bought for my wife a year ago, and it can be added to a book I was sent late last year called 500 Best Quinoa Recipes. So I am now in possession of well over one thousand recipes involving quinoa.
Carolyn Hemming couldn’t really recall the first time she ever had quinoa, but she did tell me why she started including it in her diet:
“I was a very functional eater, my sister had convinced me to start eating quinoa just because of its nutritional properties, and that convinced me. Once I cooked it and saw how easy it was to cook, I was sold. Up until then I was eating a certain amount of cottage cheese, a certain amount of yogurt, a certain amount of oatmeal, a certain amount of spinach leaves, so quinoa just made it easy.”
Notice that she didn’t say how much she liked the taste of it? But this seed has hit the mark for many people out there. Carolyn told me about the hundreds of letters they received after they published their first book, people who have used quinoa to lose weight, help control their diabetes, and relieve their problems with gluten intolerance, and so on. So this second book is more than just a cookbook, it lists complete nutritional information and comparisons with other grains and seeds, a lengthy kind of Quinoa FAQ, and descriptions of other quinoa products like flour and flakes. So armed with all of that information I attempted a couple of recipes from the book with other ingredients I had around the house post-holidays. I milled some quinoa into flour with my Thermomix in mere seconds, so I was able to use the flour, almond butter and chocolate chips to make ‘blondies’, quite tasty, and then cooked some whole quinoa to add to a Tex-Mex style salad with shallots, black beans, cooked corn kernels, chipotle chiles in adobo, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil. Pretty good!
Are these recipes changing my mind about quinoa? Meh. I still am not crazy about the taste. But I do want to mention a few tips Carolyn told me that will probably help everyone’s quinoa experiences…and if these tips had been followed I probably wouldn’t have had so many bad experiences in the past. She says people tend to undercook quinoa before they use it in baking, but it does NOT cook more once you put it in something, so it needs to be well-cooked before you puree it. With salads, do NOT add the dressing to a quinoa salad until the quinoa has cooled off, since warm quinoa may still absorb liquid and lead to that stodginess I mentioned earlier…and finally, be patient! Make sure all the cooking liquid is absorbed before you take the quinoa out of the pot.
While much of the world’s quinoa production is concentrated in South America, quinoa grows quite well here in Canada. Here’s a link to a company based in Saskatchewan, Northern Quinoa Corporation.
If you would like to listen to my conversation with Madeline Green of All Points West, the audio link will be posted here.