Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 Kitchen Bucket List Challenge: What is Quinoa?

As part of the 2012 Summer Kitchen Bucket List Challenge , I decided to figure out quinoa.   Quinoa is usually considered a “whole grain”, but it is actually a seed and therefore, gluten free. The method to make it is very similar to making rice.

Quinoa's rise in popularity may be due to NASA. Some reports say NASA was looking for a nutrient rich "grain" to send to space and stumbled on quinoa - a staple in the Andes mountains. 

One news article  highlighted how the popularity of quinoa has led to a price increase in many of the areas that previously relied on it as a staple. For instance, in Bolivia, noodles have replaced quinoa in many people's diets. This has a big nutrional impact. At the same time, many people are returning to the country side to farm quinoa because now it is a sustainable profession.

For my culinary experiment with quinoa, I used Trader Joe’s Organic Tricolor Quinoa.

The directions are pretty simple. Rinse the quinoa in cold water. Bring the right ratio of water  and quinoa to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.

Quinoa does not have a strong flavor. A lot of recipes recommend using a flavorful liquid like a vegetable or chicken broth to cook it. I decided to just use water and then try to spice it up once it was cooked. I found this great recipe for Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls.
You basically make black beans with onion, garlic, chili powder and a  little cayenne pepper.  Prepare the quinoa according to the instructions, then add some cilantro and lime. The quinoa becomes the base of your bowl and then you add lettuce and the beans on top. 

  Instead of lettuce, I layered super greens (spinach, arugula, Swiss chard) in the layer between the beans and the quinoa. The heat from both wilted the greens just a little.  I loved how filling the dish was. The flavors reminded me of Mexico. I also liked how you could personalize depending on what people in your group like by adding salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc.

Overall, my experience with quinoa was a success. It's very easy to make and I will be replacing rice with it every now and then.

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