I was introduced to quinoa long before it became a health food fad.
Dates with my future husband, an archaeologist, were often unsolicited lessons about other cultures. I remember that one lesson focused on ancient grains. I heard the term “chenopodium quinoa” so many times, it became “ingrained” in my mind.
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of northwestern South America. Humans in Peru domesticated quinoa three to four thousand years ago. Livestock had been eating the seeds of this herbaceous plant long before people consumed them.
The seeds are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is more nutritious than many grains.
The chief growing areas for the world's quinoa crop are in Peru and Bolivia, with Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina represented to a lesser degree. Altogether this area produces 117 million pounds of quinoa annually, about a third of which is organic.
Attempts to grow quinoa in high-altitude areas of the United States have been somewhat successful. The plant requires a specific climate. It is heat sensitive and temperatures of 95 degrees and above will completely destroy the crop. If there is too much rainfall during autumn harvest time, the high-protein seeds will sprout. North American cultivation requires varieties that mature in a short growing season.
Quinoa is traditionally harvested by hand and harvest must be timed precisely to maximize seed harvest.
The seeds have a coating that contains saponins, which, if left on the seeds, makes them bitter and unpalatable. The bitterness is beneficial to some extent, because it deters birds from eating the seeds.
Removing the saponin is another hindrance for North American farmers. Special equipment is needed to remove the naturally occurring bitter compounds. Most quinoa sold commercially today has been processed to remove the coating.
I always look forward to this time of year when I have mounds of beautiful spring parsley to use in tabbouleh. During this period of social distancing, I have been reliant on the food items I have on hand.
I keep surplus flours, nuts and grains on a shelf in my freezer to prevent them from becoming rancid. Much to my surprise and disappointment, I could not find bulgur wheat, when I planned to make tabbouleh. Apparently, I did not replace it when I ran out last fall. I did, however, find two packages of quinoa.
“Why not make quinoa tabbouleh?” I thought.
I searched the internet and found several recipes. I basically adapted my original tabbouleh recipe and substituted quinoa for the bulgur wheat.
I found that I like the quinoa version better than the original. Quinoa is easier to prepare. Bulgur must be soaked and then squeezed dry before using in the salad. The slight crunchy texture of quinoa is appealing, too. An added bonus for some is that quinoa is gluten-free.
I have now made two batches of Quinoa Tabbouleh. I will probably never make it any other way again. I hope you will give it a try.
1 cup quinoa
Salt and pepper
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
4 scallions, sliced
½ cup mint leaves, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
½ cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
½ teaspoon allspice
Pour 1¼ cups water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add quinoa and 1 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, until seeds are tender and open. (They will have little, curly tails.) Drain well.
Place quinoa in a bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomato and allspice.
Serve cold or at room temperature.