Keen on quinoa

If there's just one food that seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the last few years, it's got to be quinoa. It's so popular that the UN named 2013 International Year of Quinoa in recognition of its high nutritional content.
 
It's hardly surprising that this pseudo-cereal - which is actually a seed related to beets, spinach and chard - has become such a big hit. It's a complete protein and contains more calcium than milk, and it's also a rich source of iron, manganese, B vitamins and dietary fibre.
Naturopathic nutritionist Debbie Shaw (see her delicious quinoa tabbouleh recipe, opposite) who teaches with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, also recommends a quinoa-regular diet to her sports people clients. She says that as a complete protein - quinoa contains all the amino acids - it gives a good amount of energy once it's eaten and won't make you sluggish while your body digests it.
 
Quinoa grows in a rainbow of colours, though the red, white and black varieties are easiest to find here. White quinoa - sometimes called blond, gold or ivory quinoa - is mild in flavour, while black is mild and a little sweet. My favourite, red quinoa, is more nutty, and has a slightly firmer and chewier texture than the others. The cooking of quinoa is the key to its success. It should be cooked with only one and a half of its volume in water (or that amount of chicken or vegetable stock) until it just opens up to release little white curls like a tail; overcooked quinoa will be mushy and bland.
 
Dress it with a little olive oil and lemon juice or some pomegranate molasses while it's warm, for a great accompaniment to roast chicken or root vegetables. Add crunchy raw vegetables or naturally sweet roasted ones, lots of herbs or spices, and a delicious dressing, and you have a great nutritional powerhouse of a salad, just perfect for taking to work in a lunchbox.
 
Before quinoa was a food of choice for health nuts and vegans, it was the staple for the Incas and their descendants. There's been quite a bit of debate about the 'fairtrade-ness' of it all in the press. Since 2006, the worldwide demand for quinoa has increased so much that the price has also shot up. It's been claimed that this increased worth hasn't filtered through to the Bolivian and Peruvian farmers, but only to the businessmen buying the crop. I urge you to seek out Fairtrade quinoa when you're buying it at your local health-food shop.
 
If you won't get through your packet of quinoa in the next couple of months, keep it in the fridge to stop it oxidising and going rancid. Whether you want to rinse it before cooking, or not, is up to you. It's said that it will be bitter if you don't, but I cooked two batches, one rinsed, and one unrinsed, and tasted them side by side. The unrinsed lot didn't taste bitter; if anything, it was more nutty and earthy. The choice is yours.
 

Rachel's Quinoa Recipes: 

 
Rachel recommends
 
Yahoo - not only do we now have Irish buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheese, courtesy of the Toonsbridge Dairy in Co Cork, they are now making a fabulous feta-esque number which would be divine in the Nutty Quinoa Salad recipe on this page. Check out your local cheesemongers or farmers' market for Toonsbridge Dairy Buffalo Greek Style cheese.
 
Rachel’s tip
 
If you won’t get through your packet of quinoa in the next couple of months, keep it in the fridge to stop it oxidising and going rancid. Whether you want to rinse it before cooking, or not, is up to you.
It’s said that it will be bitter if you don’t, but I cooked two batches, one rinsed, and one unrinsed, and tasted them side by side. The unrinsed lot didn’t taste bitter; if anything, it was more nutty and earthy. The choice is yours.
 

Shaneod Apr 27, 2015 News