Keen on Quinoa

Keen on Quinoa

If you’re not sure, quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah and it’s a superfood, according to many cooks and food professionals. The recently published Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook (Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2013 2012) is a collection of unique and engaging recipes contributed by home economists and nutrition students.

Edited by Mairlyn Smith, home economist and cookbook author, the Quinoa Cookbook provides a history and techniques of the so-called “pseudo-cereal” from breakfasts and breads to main dishes and desserts.

For more information, visit the Ontario Home Economists Association and

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WATERLOO REGION EATS (WREats): What is quinoa?

SMITH: It’s not a whole grain, and one of our jobs was to straighten out that misinformation. It’s an ancient seed from Peru and Bolivia that is a complete protein. That’s one of its claims to fame. It’s not high in protein, but it is a complete protein that is very nutrient dense.

WREats: A complete protein?

SMITH: Yes, it means that all of the building blocks and amino acids are in place. Your body needs a certain constellation of amino acids to be able to use protein to build muscles, teeth and bone.

WREats: What route did quinoa take to suddenly, or seemingly suddenly, become so popular?

SMITH: It’s been around. I first discovered it about 15 years ago, but it was hard to find. I think the reason it’s showing up now is that people have discovered that it’s not scary, it’s fairly neutral tasting and it cooks in 15 minutes.

WREats: You say it more than replaces white rice, but how versatile an ingredient is it?

Pseudo-cereal and superfood … quinoa.

SMITH: In the book, I wanted to be able to incorporate quinoa from breakfast to dessert, so I sent a quinoa question out to other home economists explaining what I wanted in terms of recipes and asked them to be creative. They did a wonderful job coming up with these versatile recipes.

WREats: The seasonal aspect defines the book’s structure.

SMITH: Actually, I did that from a local perspective and supporting our local farmers and not so much just the seasons. To eat seasonally is always going to be economical for the consumer and supports the local economy too. I’m hoping the book shows that. For me, it makes a political statement.

WREats: What about preparing and cooking quinoa?

SMITH: Store it in a cool, dry place. It has some fat in it and can go rancid, so store like you would a brown rice. If you’re not going to use a lot of it, don’t buy a large bag. Before use, always rinse the quinoa gently in a wire mesh strainer. The ratio for quinoa to water is roughly one part water to two parts liquid. And don’t crowd the quinoa in a pot that’s too small. When the water comes to a full, rolling boil, reduce the heat, put the lid on the pot and let it slow to a lightly bubbly simmer for 12 to 15 minutes. An important final step is to fluff the quinoa with a fork and take it off the heat and let it sit for five or so minutes. Don’t cook quinoa in a lot of water which you then drain. You’ll lose some of the vitamins.

WREats: Quinoa cooks up so beautifully, doesn’t it?

SMITH: It’s really very beautiful. I like when it cooks up and looks like spirals.

WREats: Got a favourite recipe?

SMITH: There’s so many good ones. Moroccan vegetable stew with nuts and apricots, my harvest dinner and I really, really love Mexi meatless shepherd’s pie. We really wanted to introduce comforting, familiar dishes to people interested in vegetarianism.

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The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook, ed. Mairlyn Smith (Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2013). ISBN: 978-1-77050-097-6

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