Finally, LA-guest blogger Smitty is back with stories from her recent trip to South America and a recipe for that elusive grain, Quinoa. Say it with me, Keen-Wah. Enjoy!
A few months ago, I took an amazing trip to Peru, Bolivia and Chile with my friend (and Shannon's Brooklyn roommate) Tamara. We went on a 3 day Jeep tour to the high plains and the salt desert in southwestern Bolivia; an amazing magical journey that took us to lagoons, hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, a surreal desert landscape littered with giant boulders (Dali's desert) and the largest salt flats in the world (Salar de Uyuni). And every now and then in between these breathtaking vistas there would be small towns quite literally in the middle of nowhere which made me wonder -- what do these people do all day? Answer: raise goats and farm quinoa.
Apparently quinoa was a staple of the Incan diet, and it thrives at high altitudes which made it perfect for growing in the Andes. Quinoa is a grain that is very high in protein, so it's great for all you vegetarians out there who need to get your protein fix but want to eat something other than beans! Trader Joes shoppers may already be familiar with quinoa, and actually I had started experimenting with cooking quinoa before I went to Bolivia because I found boxed quinoa at my local TJs.
Here's an easy recipe for quinoa with black beans and cilantro:
1) In large pan, heat some oil, add a chopped onion, sautee until it begins to soften.
2) Add 1 box Trader Joe's quinoa (it's important to note that most boxed quinoa is pre-rinsed, however if you buy quinoa in bulk or from a nature market you'll need to soak it for a few hours and strain to remove it's natural coating which is somewhat bitter), 2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp ground cumin and some salt and stir. You cook quinoa like rice, 2 parts liquid to 1 part grain. I like to use vegetable stock to give the grains more flavor but you can use water if you prefer, and now's the time to add your liquid and bring to a boil.
3) Cover, reduce to medium, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, 10-15 min.
4) Add 1 can rinsed black beans, 1 cup green peas (blanched if fresh, or thawed if using frozen peas), and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Cook until liquid is fully absorbed.
5) Transfer to a bowl and garnish with more chopped cilantro and crumbled feta or cotija cheese. Delicious!
And here's some non-quinoa-related Bolivia pictures. More are here. Highly recommended!