Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Quinoa Salad

I am as susceptible as the next person to fads and fashions and things that are ostensibly 'good for you' so long as it's new and interesting, or at least not been heard about lately. Recently there has been a stirring in the media about quinoa - pronounced keen-wa - a so-called superfood that sounds just too good to be true. The listing in Wikipedia tells you that the United Nations has designated it a super crop for its very high protein content (13%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine) quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete foodstuff. Still doesn't tell me much about what it really is, or what it tastes like or what the Incas did as preparation 5000 years ago before they ate it but I was interested.

Having recently rediscovered the pleasure of barley - thanks to watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stuff a chicken with some a few months ago I emulated his example to wonderful effect one Sunday lunch - I was keen to try a few more of the lesser known grains. I bought a 500g pack of quinoa from Total Organics, with one recipe in mind, but that didn't happen. I found another, more enticing sounding recipe for a super herbed salad that had the added advantage of coming with a picture of the finished dish giving me at least some idea of where I was heading. It is definitely the downside to cooking with something you've never used or eaten, the not knowing what it is you should end up with, or indeed even when you have arrived.

The salad was a bit of a disaster - kind of all right but not worth repeating. I had been expecting the quinoa to be like cracked wheat (bulghur) and the salad to be a variation on tabbouleh. It lacked the robustness of that famous salad and was altogether a little flaccid in the mouth as well as looking almost nothing like the one in the picture! Not the greatest experience. All in all the remaining half bag of quinoa was rapidly heading for the back of the pantry shelf to be thrown away as out of date some time in the future. Until I read another recipe and decided, perhaps, third time lucky. It comes from an article in The Guardian by Feargus O'Sullivan, and I've adapted it to include the various cooking tips and methods that were suggested in the earlier abortive attempts.

The result is fabulous.

Quinoa and sprouted seed salad

100g quinoa
1 tbspn olive oil
2 tomatoes
1 head chicory, shredded

100g/4oz rocket
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
2 red peppers
4 tbsp mixed sprouted seeds
2 tbsp chopped chives
3 tbsp chopped coriander
1 small red chilli, minced
juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fry the quinoa in one tbspn olive oil gently for about 5 minutes then pour it into a pan of boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes during which time the germ will separate from the seed, then strain as fully as possible in a sieve. It will look like tiny translucent curls. Spread the quinoa thinly across a baking sheet and dry it gently for 30 minutes in a very low oven, fluffing it once or twice. Remove and leave to cool. Scald the tomatoes in boiling water, remove the skins and seeds and chop roughly. Slice the peppers lengthways then cook, covered, in a small frying pan in a little olive oil for about half an hour till they are caremalized and sweet. Cool slightly in the pan.

Whip lime juice, chilli and oil together to make a dressing. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and combine with all the other ingredients, including the oil from the peppers. Mix together well and serve.

Cooked this way the quinoa is delicate in texture with a light nutty flavour. It is well balanced in this dish by the the robustness of the sprouts and the myriad of other flavours. The little prickle of heat from the chilli is the final note that makes this a great dish.

Finally I understand the fuss.

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