Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Magic Grain

These days, most of us eat far more exotic grains and starchy products than the familiar wheat, rice and barley. There's polenta, which is made from corn and which is regarded in Italy as poor folks' food, definitely not trendy as it is or was in many Australian restaurants. Then there are couscous and burgul (yes, I know they're made from wheat, but in different forms) and the magic grain of the Andes, quinoa.

I’d eaten quinoa only once before we went to Peru, and found it pleasant, light but unremarkable in flavour. The tiny pale grains are actually the seeds of a leaf green veg, and as well as being high in protein, are full of all sorts of valuable minerals. No wonder the Incas could toil away in the potato fields at 3,500 metres or more!
When we were in the Sacred Valley last year, we noticed that most locals ate soupy stews in the markets, often with quinoa, vegetables and sometimes a few shreds of chicken. A small Peruvian cookbook I bought in Lima has a recipe for quinoa soup, which I’ve adapted slightly. The lack of spices and minimal use of herbs makes it almost like nursery food after the Asian and Middle Eastern food we most often eat, but it’s certainly healthy!
You should crumble in fresh white cheese, the sort shown in the photo here, but I find Gruyere a perfectly adequate substitute.

1-2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 – 3/4 cup quinoa (depending on how thick you want the soup)
1 medium potato (or sweet potato if you like), sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
handful of spinach leaves
1 cup milk
1/2 cup crumbled white cheese or grated Gruyere
salt and pepper to taste
flat-leaf parsely or fresh coriander leaf

Heat the lard or oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the stock, bring to the boil, then stir in the washed and drained quinoa. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and simmer until tender, Put in the milk and spinach leaves and cook til the spinach wilts. Add the cheese and when it has melted, season and serve with chopped flat-leaf parsley or fresh coriander.

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