Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You Say “Keen-Wah”

At least, that’s what my niece told me when she introduced me to quinoa. It is a charming little grain that hails from South America, and it was brand-new to me. It is intriguing and worth trying because it has more high-quality protein in it than the rest of the grains. And it looks so innocent! Little white round beads that pour like silk into the jar.

I didn’t have a real recipe, so I treated it like rice, except used less water, 1 part quinoa to 1 ½ parts water.

Now if you try this, the first thing you are going to notice while it is cooking is the smell. Not nice. Not even sort of grainy. Just sort of “ugh.” Perhaps that is because it isn’t a “true” grain, but more closely related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds. It reminded me, just a little, of the other thing I have cooked that made a bad smell. And I mean a REALLY bad smell. And that is … tripe.

I made menudo from scratch some years ago. We usually bought the canned stuff, but I figured I could do a better job. So I found a likely recipe and assembled the ingredients. Hominy, chili powder, oregano, lemon juice, some other stuff, and the biggie, tripe. Otherwise known as calf stomachs. In blissful innocence I cut up the tripe and put it on to boil. Warning, it may taste good in the end, but don’t plan on having people over who you are trying to impress on the day you cook it.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take hours to cook quinoa, only about 10 minutes. There was still water in the pan, so I took off the lid and cooked it a few more minutes to evaporate it. The off-putting smell is gone by then. But, to the uninitiated, there is one more disturbing detail about the grain. Have you ever seen frog eggs?

When I think of frog eggs, I think back on when I was a kid along with my 2 sisters and brother. We lived in the country, and were “babysat” by the neighbor up the road who had a boy 4 years older than my oldest sister. He was sort of like Tom Sawyer, and I think he was tickled about having 4 little kids as accomplices in his adventures. This particular time was a very wet spring. Their cow pasture was flooded at least a foot deep. “Tom” took an old gate-type door and made a raft out of it. All day he poled us around the strange new swamp, collecting buckets of frog eggs. I can see him, arms buried to the elbows in stringy frog eggs as he lifted and stirred the mass that was in the conveniently located outdoor sink his mother used to wash her garden vegetables. (He got in trouble for that too.)

The quinoa in the pot now looks like albino frog eggs, but without the slime. The starchy part has become translucent, and the germ shows a little curled thing wrapping up the side of the grain. Ideally, you have cooked it just enough to not be crunchy, but not be mushy.

Quinoa is very flexible. I scooped out some and made a salad. I added some fire roasted red pepper (from a jar), some kalamata olives, marinated mozzarella, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil. Very tasty! I may do a stir fry with the rest, or even try it with cinnamon and honey for breakfast.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a timely post! I was taking my part time job woman out to do her shopping, and there was that quinoa salad. Everywhere. I was wondering what it was. :P