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Quinoa: Ancient Secret

A-photo-of-Chuck-MalloryHow did ancient peoples stay healthy without today's modern medicines? One way was to eat good food. One of the best is quinoa, pronounced KEEN-wa. This food was a staple in the Incan civilization, even referred to as "the mother of all grains." Quinoa resurfaced commercially about 20 years ago and is now showing up in chain grocery stores.

Easy to make. Low fat. Low sodium. Easy to digest. Gluten free. Very high protein, enough that the National Academy of Sciences called it "one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom." All this, and it tastes great. It has a delicious nutty flavor and serves as a great alternative to rice and couscous. Some people refer to it as a "grain" but it's not a grain. It's actually a seed.

It is so versatile, it is easy to cook with. Without using a recipe, you can make quinoa as directed on the box. Then you can saute or prepare vegetables and spices, and mix it all together. For this recipe I decided to add flavorful green pepper and seasonings. It's one of those simple recipes that tastes like it was incredibly complicated.


Green Pepper Quinoa

  • 1 cup quinoa (see note below)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 medium green pepper, diced
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard (optional)

Note: This recipe calls for boxed, commercially-available quinoa, not unwashed quinoa.

Put quinoa and chicken stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmering, cover, and cook till stock is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. (With quinoa, the grain appears soft and in red quinoa, the "germ ring" which is white, will become visible after cooked). If stock is not yet absorbed, turn off heat and let set for a few more minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and pepper and cook on medium for 5-7 minutes. Halfway through the sauteing time, add Worcestershire, black pepper, cumin, paprika, and dried mustard, and stir. When sauteing is done, add this to the quinoa, stir, and serve.

Quinoa is usually tan-colored. This is a red variety called pasankalla from Bolivia that was recently revived in Bolivia. I found it as Ancient Harvest brand at Whole Foods. Quinoa also comes in Bob's Red Mill, Arrowhead Mills, Eden Foods, and Trader Joe's brands.

If you want to get quinoa that is not from a box at the grocery store, which is usually my preferred way, know that this is one time you might want to cave in to convenience. Quinoa that hasn't been prewashed has a substance on its outside that has to be removed with rigorous cleaning.

Here's what is involved: several years ago Gourmet magazine had a recipe with these instructions: Wash quinoa in at least 5 changes of water, rubbing grains and letting them settle before pouring off water, until water runs clear. Drain in a large sieve. Add quinoa to a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook 10 minutes. Drain in sieve and rinse under cold water. Set sieve over a saucepan with 1 1/2 inches boiling water (sieve should not touch water) and steam quinoa, covered with a kitchen towel and lid, until fluffy and dry. 

That's how the ancient Incans had to prepare it. Like me, they probably said, "Good grief!"