Lake Titicaca, for me even the name has a ring to it. The first time I read about this lake was when we covered all the Great Lakes of the world in our geography class in School. We had a good teacher in Sr Hazel and a great textbook in Jasper Stembridges’s -The world, A general regional geography. I managed to salvage this textbook from my school days, all 532 pages and well sellotaped covers, with its emphasis on the human side of geography. I still enjoy reading how man is conditioned by his environment and how, he in turn, responds to this environment.
12,500 feet above sea level and high up in the Andes mountains, Lake Titicaca straddles both Peru and Bolivia. This is believed to be the place or the area around where quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah, was first domesticated. Since Tania has been blogging a lot about these little protein rich seeds, I thought I would share some bare bones of this plant. Although considered a cereal it is not a true cereal like rice, wheat or corn to name just a few as it does not belong to the grass family. Quinoa is really a false cereal like amaranth and buckwheat, and unlike the true cereals are far superior in proteins and also gluten-free.
A beautiful plant to look at, you can imagine a whole field of this growing at this high altitude and arid conditions. This ancient staple plant of the Incas, with archaeological evidence of its use dating back to 5000 BC, the plant has evolved and adapted to protect itself from the intense UV radiation and arid conditions. Bitter tasting saponins also deter the birds. The seeds can range from white, yellow, grey, light brown, pink, black or red but what we get most commonly on the market are the white or red quinoa and sometimes the black.
Here I am again … with another quinoa recipe. Despite what some of you might think, I do have other ingredients in my kitchen and not just quinoa but I was trying to come up with a different version of the spinach and quinoa bake. So, as soon as I felt that ray of inspiration coming I put my Marimekko apron and armed with the digital camera in one hand and the knife on the other I ‘invented’ the following recipe with a cabbage cousin (cabbage and broccoli are both from the Brassicaceae family). As usual, feel free to replace some of the ingredients, for example change the broccoli by another vegetable or the smoked salmon by another fish or any other source of protein (cheese is the first one that comes to my mind … mmhhh pieces of halloumi or feta!). As I learnt from my mother: you have to think about the colours when choosing your ingredients … the eyes are the first ones ‘tasting’ the food!
Broccoli and quinoa bake
120 g smoked salmon trimmings
1 small broccoli head
1 tbsp capers
80 g or ½ cup quinoa
½ fresh chilli
Wash and drain the quinoa, place it in the pan with 1 1/3 cup of water, bring to the boil and then lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. In the meantime, cut the broccoli into small florets, place in a small pan, add boiling water and cook at a medium heat for about 3 minutes, drain the little green trees. Finely chop half of a fresh chilli (or a whole one if you like to spice things up!). Mix all the ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste. Place in a loaf tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 180 ºC / Gas 4. Eat hot or cold. Serves 2 small stomachs like mine or maybe just one if you like big portions (like my friend Elena does!)
Following Vilma’s comment on quinoa and her question about ‘pesque’ I asked my mum if she knew what pesque was, she remembered from her childhood in Cuzco, Peru that they called pesque the cooked quinoa that was given to baby chicks. Beside that she wrote some comments (in Spanish) that I have translated below.
“To the marvellous qualities of this tiny grain I have to add the beauty of its plants, spikes of 2.5 – 3 meters high that appear like lovely bunch of flowers in different shades that go from crimson red to yellow and orange … all of which you can see in the Andean fields.
Regarding its nutritious value it has as many or even more proteines than red meat. The cuisine Novo Andina (Andean-Peruvian nouvelle cuisine) is wisely using this ingredient to give colour to salads with white, red or black quinoa, to make crusty buttered see food, lamb or pork meat or even in bakery. I have to add that NASA includes quinoa amongst the food given to astronauts.”
While chefs in Peru are experimenting with quinoa … how much do we dare to experiment in our kitchens? Just by replacing some ingredients we could be reinventing dishes and that is how I ended up making ‘Quinua chaufa’ (stir fried quinoa). The original dish I took my inspiration from is ‘Arroz chaufa’ (stir fried rice) which is something you will find in any ‘chifa’ which is how we call the Chinese restaurants in Peru. I don’t know how much chifa’s food are a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese culture, and I would guess that chifa’s dishes might not all be like in China (I haven’t been to China to compared though) and the stir fried rice or noodles in Peru are not like the ones I had here in London. Anyhow, now that you know a bit of the story behind the dish here is my recipe, now enjoy your cooking!
1 cup quinoa
1 chicken breast
1 bunch of spring onions
1 piece of fresh ginger (about 3 cm )
Soya sauce to taste
Salt to taste
Start by boiling the chicken breast, you will then have to shred it (if you boil it with something else like that lost carrot hiding in the fridge and that lonely little onion you can then use that chicken stock for a soup or another preparation!). Wash and drain the quinoa and toast on a hot pan until the grains are brown-ish and a lovely smell comes out of them. Add 2 cups of boiling water, cover the pan, turn the heat to the minimum and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is all absorbed. While the quinoa cooks fry the shredded chicken in a little bit of oil (wish a dash of soya sauce if you like). Keeping an eye on the chicken sun tanning in the pan wash and finely chop the spring onions and grate the ginger or chop it very finely. Whisk the eggs with some salt and pepper and make an omelette with them, you can optionally add some of your chopped spring onions to the omelette while it’s cooking, when done use a wooden spoon or spatula to ‘chop’ your omelette. Now you add to your fluffy quinoa the shredded chicken, pieces of omelette, ginger and spring onions, mix everything, add soya sauce to taste and some salt if you must. Eat as soon as it is ready! This recipe can have so many variations depending what you have in your fridge and what you like, here are some examples: replace the chicken by any other (edible) bird such as turkey or by any meat such as bacon strips (roasted meat leftovers are great for this dish!), if you are vegetarian replace the bird or meat pieces by mushrooms or tofu fried with crushed garlic. Your turn to come up with other vegetables that will work out well with this dish!
Together with a couple of colleagues we have decided to share our food (or cooking experiments), once a week one cook for the 3 of us and brings the meal to work to have lunch together. Today was my turn, and I thought I would use the occasion to introduce a new ingredient to them: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). It was not a random choice, quinoa is produced in the Andes, I am Peruvian-Belgian and the mountains are very special to me. I made a delicious (yes, I have to admit it!) and very nutritious ‘bake’ with quinoa and spinach (Spinacia oleracea). See the recipe below! Did you know that those two ingredients are botanically related ? Both plants are from the Amaranthaceae family. Although quinoa leaves are edible you might only find the seeds in some supermarkets and health food shops in the UK, and those seeds come mainly from Bolivia and Peru. What is quite surprising for me is that when I was in Peru people in the coast or amazonian region would not know and eat quinoa (thought to be food for the poor?) and now that there is a whole wave of ‘Peruvian nouvelle cuisine’ more Peruvians are starting to appreciate quinoa in its different varieties (white, golden, red), forms (grain, flour, flaked, popped) and recipes (sweet or savoury). I have made with good success: chocolate cake with quinoa (ideal for coeliacs), quinoa madeleines, quinotto (like risotto but with quinoa instead of rice), quinua and courgette bake … the possibilities are endless! I forgot to take a picture of my bake, but here is the recipe …
Quinoa and spinach bake (recipe for 3-4 people)
1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cup water
1 onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
450 g spinach
200 g feta cheese, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
1 tsp baking powder
Salt & pepper
I first tried the quinoa and spinach bake from a friend who made it for a picnic (you can eat it hot, warm or cold). I looked for the recipe on the web and then modified it to my taste. Wash, drain and cook a cup of quinoa. Put in the pan enough water to cover the grains and a bit more, put the lid on, turn the heat down as soon as it boils and turn the heat off when most of the water has been used up (the rest of it will be absorbed by the quinoa or evaporate). Meanwhile, chop 1 onion (I don’t mind if white or red) and 2-3 garlic cloves (depending how much you like garlic), gently fry them until they become nicely caramelised. Add 450 g of spinach (I’ve used packed baby spinach, if using a fresh bunch wash and chop it first), cook for a few minutes, turn off the heat and add the cooked quinoa, about 200 g feta or salad cheese chopped, 1 tsp cinnamon powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, ½ tsp grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, 3 beaten eggs, 1 tsp baking powder. Place the mixture in a cake tin or similar and put in the oven at 180⁰C/Gas 4/350⁰F for 40 minutes or until set.
Optional: add some grated parmesan to the mixture, put some strips of feta or salad cheese on top of the mixture before baking it.