Quinoa (keen-wah) is a peculiar plant. It doesn’t count as a cereal because it isn’t a grass, but is related more to spinach and beetroot and (Magpie loved this from the Wikipedia entry) tumbleweed. Its seeds are tiny, very hard when dried and round, but slightly flattened on both ends so rather than spherical, they are shaped more like a yo-yo without the string. When cooked (boiled up in water, like rice) they produce little tails in a spiral shape, which is an easy way to tell that they’re cooked.
Cooked, they smell nutty and slightly buttery. All good in Magpie’s book.
They have a secret, which Magpie can’t figure out. They don’t seem to be made of anything. Nothing at all. They are the modern equivalent of magic seeds.
Compare them to brown rice:
100g of uncooked rice yields 351 killer calories, 9.2g protein and 72g carbohydrates.
100g of uncooked quinoa carries 92 kcals, 2g protein and 16.5g carbohydrates.
Yet the quinoa is filling (while light in the stomach) and tasty and works in all the same dishes as the rice.
The result of this is that even on a low carb effort at night (Magpie’s greed gives rise to skirmishes with weight, so low carbs in the evening is the only way to cope), quinoa is about as safe as it gets.
So, what to do with it. It’s easy to say it works the same as rice, but it resembles rice neither visually nor in its sapidity.
Magpie’s investigations lead her to the obvious connections. Pilafs are as lovely with bulghur wheat as rice, so it follows that quinoa must work similarly. Kedgeree is a deliciously spicy dish, made with whatever ingredients the cook has lying around (a major eature (sic) of Magpie’s meals), provided the smoked haddock and egg and Indian spices are present. It is, by nature, inauthentic, having been introduced in India for the benefit of the British palate, so using it in this way is not the crime it might have been had we been making paella.
In the case illustrated below:
half a sliced leek
a tiny brown onion, sliced
half a yellow pepper, chopped big
the inevitable garlic
a raggy bunch of coriander
a not-too-wizened green chilli.
All of the above whacked into a small frying pan with extra virgin rapeseed oil and sauted gently until the onions are translucent. NOTE: try not to breathe in the chilli. It HURTS.
A couple of tail ends of smoked haddock,
three healthy teaspoons of random curry powder
a couple of pinches of Maldon salt.
Magpie doesn’t like the idea of fish skin (doesn’t mind it in practice, but generally can’t bring herself to consume it unless fried) so the haddock pieces were untimely ripp’d from their skin and then sliced thickly into the pan with a pair of scissors to avoid contaminating the wooden board.
All mixed around with a wooden spatula until the fish is hopefully cooked (no more than five minutes – fish CAN be dry, which is a shame. It’s a sin to badly cook something which used to be living.
The already cooked quinoa (and who can say how much? Cooking is about proportion which is in the eye of the beholder. It’s more an aesthetic than an absolute) is then mixed into the pan until it appears to be even throughout. The idea is to have slightly more quinoa than vegetables.
The final two items are what finishes the meal.
One boiled egg, cut into sixths.
A large handful of sliced almonds, toasted in a small, dry frying pan until browned, with heady high notes that waft under your nose.
The egg is traditional; the almonds are not. But the almonds are fitting, riding on the undertones of the quinoa and lifting the piece to glorious harmony where it might have otherwise lingered in mundane thirds.
Mix the egg gently into the pan to warm through without shattering the yolks. Mix half of the almonds into the kedgeree and scoop out the mixture into a large bowl, as much as you think you can handle and then a couple more spoonfuls for good measure. (That is where the soulfood comes in. You need a little more food than your body can handle, for your soul to consume with passion).
Dump the remaining almonds on top of the dish as a large and friendly garnish.