Some might consider quinoa (pronounced as keen-wah) to be pretty much passé in the superfoods list, with farro looking to be quite the healthy food trend amongst food blogs right now. But with the United Nations declaring 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, it is hard to overlook the benefits of this supercrop (aptly referred to as ‘mother grain’ by the Incas) be it on an individual level, or on the global scale of combatting food poverty and insecurity. Containing all eight of the essential amino acids, gluten-free and easy to digest, quinoa is certainly something you ought to find stashed in your pantry. However, it has not quite reached staple level around these nooks, mainly due to the numbing question of what exactly to do with quinoa.
Confession: I was never a fan of quinoa when I first tried it. I was pregnant then, and began adding
more greens to my meals;- a colour almost non-existent on my plate with the exception of “that green one you eat with nasi lemak” (as I referred to it to stallholders back in school and at work);- along with exploring healthier meal and snack alternatives. A finger guide through my favourite organic shelf in the local mart landed on a pack of quinoa seeds, and as much as I would have wished for it to be otherwise, sadly, the rest wasn’t quite history.
My first quinoa cooking attempt saw me ack-ing away and force-feeding myself, not quite unlike my aforementioned non-green-eating self bludgeoning bok choy to death with a fork. It was gritty, bitter and barely felt edible, despite following the cooking instructions on the pack (2:1 ratio between water and quinoa). A quick Google search introduced me to saponin, a bitter element present in the coating of quinoa that can easily be eliminated in a simple thorough rinse under the tap.
Then came the texture. Quinoa is a great grain replacement for rice, a daily essential here in our region, though of course one can argue there are healthy variations to the oft-scoffed white rice, such as the unpolished brown rice, or red rice. Serve quinoa with the every day dishes you might serve on your Asian platter, and you’ve got yourself a substantial meal with half the calories and a whole lot more nutrients. My second (and third) attempt to cook quinoa was no longer bitter, but still had that gritty texture, a far cry from the fluffy rice I was used to. A bit more practice, and a great technique tutorial later, I was sold, and have since been enjoying it in my salads, mains, and most recently, granola.
My latest favourite way of having quinoa is in this kale and quinoa pilaf, topped with pan-roasted squash. If it sounds like a mouthful, it’s because it is; a mouthful of flavours. The massaged kale leaves (another technique I’ve learnt to rid it of its harsh bitterness) adds texture to the flavourful and fluffy quinoa, while the sweet chunks of roasted squash uplifts the dish with each bite, carefully balanced with a little lemon juice to meld the flavours seamlessly.
Kale and Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Squash
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon for kale
1 large kale stem, de-stemmed and chopped roughly
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for squash
1/2 cup diced butternut squash
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Bring the water, vegetable stock and sea salt to a boil in a pot. Add the quinoa, cover the pot and lower heat, allowing it to simmer for about 15 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
In the meantime, combine kale, sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice in a bowl. Massage for about 3-5 minutes, until the leaves have shrunk and taken on a beautiful lighter, glistening shade. (You can refer to the pictures above to see the colour difference.)
Turn off the heat, throw in the massaged kale, and leave the pot covered for about 5 minutes. Once done, fluff the quinoa, folding in the kale. The quinoa should be tender and firm (not mushy).
In a bowl, combine squash, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon and olive oil well to coat.
Roast the squash in a skillet over medium heat, covering with a large lid, and stirring every 2-3 minutes, to ensure even browning. Cook for about 6-8 minutes till the squash pieces can be easily pierced with a fork.
Serve the kale and quinoa pilaf warm, topped with the roasted squash.