Although it is nearly impossible to run out of places to explore when it comes to this monthly feature, that does not mean we have never found ourselves truly digging around for a place that strikes our fancy. You have to truly be interested in it to make it interesting to others. That is not only the key for this recipe; it applies to anything. As Amir mentioned on a previous post, we are currently embarking on another healthier eating challenge, and it involves the ‘v’ word: vegan. When I first challenged myself to eat vegan, I was completely engaged in the lifestyle and found myself moving through it with no problem. For some reason, this time has been a much more challenging affair. I did not want to vegan-ify a culture’s recipe for our sake, so I looked around for something that would fit the bill. That was when I remembered that we both love quinoa. It is an ingredient that fares well in so many recipes, and with its roots in Peruvian cuisine, it was just the thing to investigate.
Like kale, quinoa now to seems to be one of those ingredients that is just everywhere. Everywhere you go, there is a news report, doctor’s advise or restaurant’s menu touting the health benefits and nutty, satisfying taste of the grain. Those stories are true, at least in our opinion, but isn’t it odd when something that has been around for ages finally gets its 15 minutes of fame? Blame a big chunk of it on the Food and Agricultural Organization. They are the ones who said 2013 is “The International Year of the Quinoa.” Farmers, food scientists and nutritionists will say quinoa is not a grain due to its closer relation to amaranth and spinach due to its plant formation, but for ease of argument, we’ll continue to call it a grain from here on out. Just know that even though we tend to focus on eating only the mature seeds, the sprouts and leaves are also edible. The Andes mountains are the birth place of quinoa throughout regions of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The majority of quinoa is exported from these countries, specifically Peru, although there are farmers in Europe, Mexico and the United States cultivating the crop. In fact, Colorado is the leading producer of black quinoa, a cousin to the South American variety.
Years ago, we’ll throw out estimates of at least 3,000 years, the Inca people of South America widely harvested quinoa, making it a staple of the diet, along with potatoes and maize. They called it “chisiya mama”, mother grain. Each year, the Incan emperor marked the growing season by planting the first seed with with a spade of gold. Now, this ancient grain may be at the center of a modern day dilemma. The price increase has made it slightly more difficult for some urban dwelling South American families to buy the same product that has been at the root of their culture since the beginning. Meanwhile, the high demand proves to be beneficial for most farmers, although one must consider if those who produce organically will be able to do so down the line. Food justice, food sovereignty and sustainability are now terms swirling around with supergrain as more and more people discuss quinoa. For Americans, U.S. cultivated quinoa goes fast, solidifying the need to utilize exports.
There will never be a time that food, politics and international relations will not mix. Do your best to make the choices for your family and community that feel good for you. In terms of its health benefits though, quinoa is full of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, lysine and a bit of iron. There is one slight downside that can affect the flavor. Once quinoa is harvested, it must be processed to remove the bitter outer coating, saponins, that naturally provide protection from hungry birds or other animals who may be looking for a snack. The coating can cause slight digestion disturbances to humans, but that irritating characteristic is almost eliminated once mass distributed quinoa is processed, rinsed and packaged for purchase. It is still wise to rinse again and drain quinoa very well prior to cooking to remove any saponins that may still exist.
This soup is such a basic dish that there is no reason you could not make it during the week in less than 30 minutes. It is perfect for vegetarians, and vegans of course, and the mix of hearty vegetables and the nutty bite of the quinoa provides a very filling spoonful for anyone. You could easily make your own adaptations by using butter instead of oil, pouring in chicken broth instead of vegetable broth or stirring in bits of shredded chicken or chunks of a white fish. To be very honest, this veggie-packed version is perfect on its own and harkens back to the ancient land of Peru with its simple authenticity.
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish1.1. In a medium saucepan, heat water over a medium high flame. Stir in quinoa, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until the kernels begin to sprout.
2. Meanwhile as quinoa cooks, heat oil in a separate large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini. Mix well and cover pot. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Then, mix in garlic and diced tomatoes. Continue to cook uncovered for an additional 4 minutes.
4. Stir in cooked quinoa into the vegetable mixture. Mix in mint and oregano leaves. Serve warm and garnish with fresh cilantro.
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