Quinoa – being celebrated all year!

Did you know that quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-waa’ although I still think ‘quin-noah’ in my head!) is such a superfood that it even has it’s own year? The United Nations has decided that 2013 is the International Year of Quinoa, a celebration of the Andean people who have preserved traditional ways of cultivating this nutritious grain as well as it’s potential for alleviating poverty and food insecurity – not bad for such a tiny grain!

Quinoa has been the ‘in’ grain with the dieting fashionista for some time now, often used for gourmet markets only. But as more becomes known about the great nutritional properties of this unusual grain, it’s popularity is increasing and becoming more mainstream.

Although I’m calling it a grain, Quinoa is not actually a true cereal but more related to beets and spinach; the ‘grain’ is the plants seed. The leaves can also be eaten as a green, although these are not readily available on the international market. Nutritionally, quinoa really is a powerhouse of goodies, with fantastic levels of manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium. It’s high in fibre and low in fat and cholesterol. But what makes quinoa even better is that is the protein content; it is one of the few plant-based sources of complete amino acids as well as being gluten free.

As well as eating as a whole seed, quinoa can be ground into a flour and used to make bread, cakes, pasta, dumplings – the list continues. It’s great as a salad base, added to stews and soups and apparently can be used to brew beer!

Being suitable for practically any type of diet (it’s even considered kosher) or allergy, demand has been increasing, and therefore so has the price. This means that indigenous populations are finding it hard to buy (the price has tripled since 2006!), but equally farmers are able to make livable income which has a knock on effect, expanding the economy as a whole. Trials are underway elsewhere in the world to see if quinoa can be grown in different climates; after all, potatoes were once the staple of the Andean population, maybe quinoa can be too.

In my opinion, quinoa definitely has a place in a plant based wholefood diet. There are of course ecological aspects to take into consideration – air miles, farmer welfare etc – but when compared to the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry, they just don’t equate.
I love quinoa as a salad base; this one is called Sarah’s salad, after my lovely friend who first introduced it to me. It’s simple to make and packed with nutritional goodies. This recipe makes a big bowl – it stays fresh in the fridge for a few days but it’s easy to half if you don’t want to eat it every night. Enjoy!

Sarah’s Quinoa Salad
200g quinoa
4 grated carrots
couple of handfuls of chopped fresh herbs – parsley, mint or coriander
2 tbspns mixed seeds
2 tbspns flaked almonds
2 tbspns raisins or sultanas, soaked in boiling water
50mls of fresh orange juice
good glug of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
First, cook the quinoa according to the packet instructions – I tend to do 3x weight of quinoa i.e.: 600mls in this case. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until the water has been absorbed and the grain soft but with a little ‘bite’. Drain any remaining cooking liquid and leave in the pan with the lid on to steam for a few minutes. Empty out into your serving bowl to cool off.
Meanwhile, grate the carrots, lightly toast the seeds, and soak the raisins or sultana for a few minutes so they plump up all fat and juicy. Once the seeds and quinoa are cool, drain the raisins and mix all the ingredients together, adding olive oil and seasoning to taste.

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