An ancient plant native to the Andes mountains in South America, quinoa has been around for over 5,000 years and is known to have been the staple food of the Incas. (Photo: Sheela Rani Chunkath)
I am writing this article from Ithaca, where the famous Cornell University of USA is located. Ithaca is a town where people are into organic foods, composting, community supported agriculture and bookstores. A surprising number of its young citizens are into vegan foods and many restaurants cater to the steadily growing demand for vegetarian foods. There is a famous restaurant called Moosewood, which is a pure vegetarian restaurant and it is thriving. I checked with my daughter and her friends as to what is the latest on the health food front knowing that this ecofriendly community would have done its research.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is something that is being touted as a wonder grain here. It is considered to be an almost complete food in itself. It is very high in proteins and unsaturated fat content and also has the lowest ratio of carbohydrates than any other grain. This makes it an ideal food for diabetics as it has a low glycaemic index. Quinoa is also a good source of manganese, potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamin E and B6, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine. It has more calcium than cows milk, is an excellent antioxidant, and also rich in dietary fibre and iron. Quinoa is a very good source of magnesium and, therefore, said to be beneficial for people suffering from migraine headaches. Quinoa is stocked with life-sustaining nutrients and the protein from quinoa contains all the eight essential amino acids.
An ancient plant native to the Andes mountains in South America, quinoa has been around for over 5,000 years and is known to have been the staple food of the Incas. They used it to supplement their diet of potatoes and corn and reverently called it ‘Chisaya mama’ — mother of all grains. Quinoa is the seed of the leafy plant called Chenopodium quinoa of the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot plant family and is distantly related to the spinach plant. Quinoa is available in almost all the food stores in Ithaca. There are two varieties commonly available; one white and the other brown like our ragi grain. You can also get the grain in a dark brownish purple colour. Quinoa is also available as flakes or in powdered form and so various dishes can be made from this grain.
I decided to check whether the super grain is better than our rice, wheat, millets, corn etc. Seems like it is. The grain is a powerhouse of proteins, fats, vitamins, antioxidants, etc.
I picked up some white and brown quinoa from the local grocery store. The friend whose place I have rented has a lovely cookery book called ‘Cooking with Quinoa — the Super Grain’. I tried to adapt the cooking to our Indian style and made a quinoa kichadi which was a sellout. Basically cooking quinoa is like cooking rice. Add one part of quinoa to two parts of boiling water, lower the flame and ensure that the grain does not stick to the bottom of the cooking vessel. When the grain is almost cooked, a white tail detaches from the grain, looking much like a green gram sprout. Quinoa can be cooked in a pressure cooker or a rice cooker.
Now for the quinoa kichadi recipe, I took one cup of quinoa. I chopped up one medium-sized onion, two tomatoes, two carrots, a little ginger, two small green chillies and a little coriander leaf. First, I sauteed the onion, ginger and chillies in a generous amount of olive oil (sesame or mustard oil should be fine too). When the carrots were half cooked, I added the quinoa grain and the coriander along with two glasses of hot water. I put the stove on simmer and waited for the quinoa to cook. After a little while, I saw the white tails detach from the grain indicating that the quinoa was half cooked. I left it to cook a little more and then evaporated the excess water and served it hot with some coriander leaves for garnish. I had many requests for refills and am definitely going to use quinoa regularly when I get back home to Chennai.
The writer was earlier Health Secretary of Tamil Nadu and is
currently, Additional Chief Secretary and Chairman & Managing
Director, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani.arogyamantra@gmail. com. Earlier articles can be accessed at www.arogyamantra. blogspot. com