Peru's petite pearls

Quinoa is a grain high in protest and rich in valuable vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Quinoa 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Be sure to try the quinotto,’ advised a friend who was telling me about the specialties of Ricardo Zarate, the Limaborn chef of Mo-Chica Restaurant in Los Angeles. Indeed, of the array of delicious dishes that I sampled at his Peruvian restaurant, the most enticing to me was the chef’s quinoa risotto.
To make the dish, Chef Zarate boiled a mixture of red, black and white quinoa in mushroom stock with carrot, onion, celery and thyme until it was just done, as in cooking pasta to the al dente stage. Then he briefly sauteed white mushrooms with butter, garlic and parsley, and added them to a pan of sauteed shallots, garlic and oregano. To this he added the cooked quinoa and more mushroom stock, and finished the dish with a little creme fraiche so it had a creamy, risotto-like consistency. Off the heat the chef added a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Each dish was garnished with a grilled king oyster mushroom and drizzled with parsley oil.
It was natural that Chef Zarate would feature a quinoa dish on his menu. His restaurant, which does modern interpretations of traditional Peruvian comfort foods, is named for a culture that flourished in ancient Peru, and quinoa comes from that region.
In fact, write Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming, authors of Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, “Quinoa is believed to be the most powerful food to come from the Andean Mountain regions of Peru and Bolivia. Over five thousand years ago the indigenous peoples of the Altiplano regarded quinoa as more valuable than gold. The Incas considered quinoa to be their most sacred food, which contained spiritually enhancing qualities.”
QUINOA IS very high in protein and rich in valuable vitamins and minerals, and is gluten free. It became popular outside its region when people became aware of its special nutritional properties. Another advantage of quinoa is that it cooks very quickly. “If you’ve got 15 minutes,” write Green and Hemming, “you have time to cook quinoa. It cooks up in a snap and lasts in the refrigerator for up to one week.”
Quinotto is a favorite of Esha Ray of TruRoots, which specializes in organic and sprouted grains. She sent me her recipe for the quinoa risotto that she enjoyed in Peru and has been preparing ever since, and noted that the key to getting optimum risotto texture – firm quinoa in a thick, creamy sauce – is to boil the quinoa in water first until it starts to burst, and then to cook the quinoa only briefly with the rest of the ingredients as a finishing step. After draining and rinsing the boiled quinoa, she returns it to the saucepan and adds white wine, parsley, salt, pepper and onion that was lightly cooked in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. She stirs the mixture over low heat until the quinoa grains are coated. Just before serving, she mixes in a small amount of whipping cream and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Although quinoa is often called a grain, it is technically a seed. The most commonly available quinoa is white or golden but there are also red and black quinoa, and the different kinds of quinoa can be cooked together. Quinoa flour is used to boost the nutrition of pancakes, waffles and baked goods such as cookies and brownies.
It might seem surprising to suggest eating quinoa every day, but after all, many eat rice or oatmeal on a daily basis. “You can use quinoa in almost everything,” write Green and Hemming, “which means you can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.” To make their apple strudel breakfast cereal, cook quinoa with dried apple slices, raisins, water and cinnamon, flavor it with vanilla and brown sugar and serve it topped with vanilla yogurt and toasted almonds.
To cook quinoa, Green and Hemming prefer the “simmer-and-set” method because no draining is required. They combine the quinoa with twice its volume in water, bring it to a boil and cook it in a covered pan over low heat for 10 minutes. Next they leave the covered pan off the heat to allow the residual heat in the pot to continue cooking the quinoa for another 4 to 7 minutes. When it has reached the desired texture, it’s uncovered to prevent overcooking.
For a more delicate flavor, quinoa can be cooked like pasta, in a large uncovered saucepan of water on medium-high heat, and then drained.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
Quinoa with sauteed mushrooms
This simple recipe is inspired by Ricardo Zarate’s quinotto. Serve it as a first course or to accompany a meatless main course. If you like, garnish the quinoa with grilled exotic mushrooms and drizzle it with parsley oil. (To make parsley oil, see note below.) Quinoa seeds have a natural coating of bitter-tasting saponins that protect them from birds. To remove the coating, rinse the quinoa thoroughly before cooking it. Although most of the saponin is usually washed off during commercial processing, some feel that rinsing quinoa before cooking improves its taste.
Makes 8 appetizer or 4 entree servings.
1 cup quinoa 21⁄2 cups mushroom vegetable stock (see next recipe), vegetable stock or water 2 Tbsp. butter 225 to 350 gr. (8 to 12 ounces) mushrooms, halved and cut in thick slices 1 chopped shallot (optional) 2 cloves chopped garlic 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano2 to 4 Tbsp. creme fraiche or whipping cream 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheeseSalt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put quinoa in a strainer and rinse several times with warm water. Drain well. Bring 2 cups stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes or until the quinoa is just tender (al dente). Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
Melt butter in a skillet or saute pan. Add mushrooms and saute over medium heat for 1 minute. Add shallot, garlic and parsley and saute, stirring often, until mushrooms are just tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in oregano, then the quinoa. Add the remaining stock and cook, stirring often, until quinoa absorbs the stock. Stir in the cream and cook briefly until blended in and the mixture is creamy. Remove from heat and add Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Note: Parsley Oil: Add 1 cup parsley leaves to a pan of boiling water and boil for about 15 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer parsley to a bowl of ice water.
Drain, squeeze to remove excess water, and pat thoroughly dry with paper or cloth towel. Puree in a small food processor or blender with 3 Tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Mushroom vegetable stock
For a lighter stock, you can omit the butter and skip the step of sauteing. This flavorful stock keeps for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen.
Makes about 4 cups.
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or olive oil 3 medium onions, coarsely chopped 1 medium carrot, diced 2 celery ribs, chopped 6 cups water 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 1 bay leaf 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1⁄2 tsp dried thyme 5 parsley stems (optional) 11⁄2 to 2 cups sliced mushrooms or mushroom stems (about 1⁄4 pound)
Heat butter or oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add onions, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add water, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and mushrooms and bring to a boil.
Simmer uncovered over low heat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain stock, pressing on ingredients in strainer.
Quinoa, carrot and lentil stew
With its eastern Mediterranean spices, this recipe from Quinoa 365 could be considered a quicker, easier variation of lentil and rice majadra. It’s ready in 20 minutes, and the quinoa and lentils cook together.
Authors Green and Hemming make it with no added fat, but you might wish to top it with the traditional garnish of fried or sauteed onions.
Makes 4 to 6 servings 1⁄2 cup quinoa 1⁄2 cup red lentils 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock 1 cup water 1⁄2 cups sliced carrots 1 cup diced red onion 2 tsp minced fresh garlic 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground coriander 1⁄4 teaspoon salt 1 cup diced sweet red pepper (about 1 pepper) 2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
Combine the quinoa, lentils, stock and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the cilantro and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.