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Seasonal Pantry: Wait, quinoa, I hardly knew you (w/video)

  • Quinoa

Farro, too, is apparently yesterday's fodder.

I find these declarations both silly and annoying. The message is that ingredients are merely passing trends and that our discovery of them is a fleeting thing, like hairstyles, hemlines or facial hair.

This may be true in certain restaurants. If you pay attention, you'll notice that ingredients pass like waves through restaurants that are not tied to a culinary tradition. A few years ago, for example, farro was everywhere, to the degree that acclaimed writer Calvin Trillin declared how sick he was of it after once having praised it.

I think differently, most of the time. Over the years, as unfamiliar foods have become available locally, my pantry and my cooking repertoire have expanded. When I was growing up, I'd never heard of polenta, but it's become a longtime staple, since I first ate it in the 1970s. The same is true with farro, bulgur wheat, couscous, black rice, sorrel, pomelos, serranos, quail and dozens of other foods that were, at one time, not on my radar.

I confess that certain foods became so trendy for a time that I have likely eaten my lifetime fill. Sun-dried tomatoes are overdone, as is pesto, largely, I believe, because they became ubiquitous instead of seasonal. Classic pesto is a summer joy; sun-dried tomatoes are a traditional way of preserving tomatoes for winter. It was their year-round usage that made me grow tired of them. But I digress.

Here quinoa is being declared yesterday's darling when I've not fully befriended it yet. It's a food that is prepared poorly so often that I tend to ignore it. Yet it is delicious when cooked correctly, so that it is neither watery nor undercooked, two of the most frequent problems I have encountered.

One other problem can put a final nail in quinoa's coffin, unless you know how to fix it.

Quinoa has a bitter coating, a quality that allows it to thrive in the wild, as birds and other critters are put off by the taste. If quinoa is cooked without being well-rinsed, the bitterness remains and is quite unpleasant. If you cook quinoa, be sure to rinse it prior, in several water baths. (Save the water and use it to water indoor or outdoor plants.)

Quinoa is a seed, not a grain, and has grown in South America for thousands of years. It is related to Swiss chard and spinach; if you find quinoa greens, don't discard them, as they are both nutritious and delicious.

Quinoa contains about 20 percent high-quality protein, making it an excellent staple for vegans and vegetarians. It also has substantial amounts of iron, potassium, riboflavin, magnesium, niacin, zinc, copper, manganese and folacin.


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