Quick meals with quinoa

Author: Emma Knowles
Photography: William Meppem

Quinoa keeps well and lends its nutty goodness to salads, snacks and sweets.

In the not-so-distant past, quinoa was an obscure ingredient with a name we struggled to pronounce (that's "keen-wah" if you're still not sure), best known as a staple food of Latin American countries such as Peru and Bolivia.

Despite its relatively recent arrival to our pantries, quinoa's cultivation dates back to the time of the Aztecs and Incas. These days, it's easy to find in supermarkets, delicatessens and health food shops, and comes in white, black or red, or in mixed packets of all three. It has a good shelf-life when stored in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.

Quinoa is often touted as a superfood, but supposed super-powers aside, it's just damn tasty. Used as a grain, though it is in fact a seed, it has a distinctive nutty flavour, and is quick to prepare, while for the gluten-intolerant, it has the added benefit of being gluten-free.

We love quinoa for its versatility. It's excellent in summer salads to serve at barbecues, adds body to soups, and makes for a beautifully fluffy pilaf. It's also surprisingly good in sweets - instead of making a rice pudding, simmer quinoa in lightly sweetened coconut milk, then chill it and serve it with tropical fruits, or whip up a batch of the raspberry-studded quinoa pancakes here; served with yoghurt they pass for a relatively healthy breakfast, but we love ours with ice-cream and maple syrup for dessert.

Quinoa and broccolini salad
Serves 4 as a light meal or side
Cook 200gm quinoa in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender (15-20 minutes), drain well and spread on a tray to cool (30 minutes). Combine in a bowl with 1 bunch finely chopped broccolini, ½ cup chopped mint, ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, ½ cup chopped rocket and 2 thinly sliced spring onions. In a separate bowl, combine the finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon, 1½ tbsp red wine vinegar and 1 finely chopped garlic clove, stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in 120ml extra-virgin olive oil and season to taste. Drizzle over salad, toss to combine and serve.

Quinoa pancakes
Serves 4
Sieve 150gm wholemeal flour, 75gm plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1 tbsp caster sugar into a bowl, stir in a pinch of salt and make a well in the centre. Crack 2 eggs into well, add 375ml well-shaken buttermilk and 2 tsp vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth. Stir in 1 cup cooked quinoa and rest for 20 minutes. Heat a little vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add ¼-cupfuls of batter, scatter each with 3-4 raspberries and cook until golden on the bottom and bubbles appear on the surface (2-3 minutes). Turn and cook other side (1-2 minutes). Transfer to a tray, wipe out pan with paper towels and repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm with maple syrup, extra raspberries and vanilla ice-cream.

Quinoa and haloumi fritters
Serves 4 as a snack
Cook 200gm quinoa in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender (15-20 minutes), drain well and spread on a tray to cool (30 minutes). Transfer to a bowl, stir in 75gm plain flour, 70gm coarsely grated haloumi, ½ cup chopped mint, 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 2 eggs, finely grated rind of 1 lemon and a good pinch of smoked paprika. Season well, mix to combine, then form ¼-cups of mixture into patties. Heat 1cm vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry patties, turning once, until golden brown (1-2 minutes each side). Drain on paper towels, season to taste and serve with lemon wedges.

Corn and quinoa soup
Serves 4 as a light meal
Sauté ½ finely chopped Spanish onion and 1 finely chopped garlic clove in 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan until tender (4-5 minutes). Stir in 180gm quinoa to coat, then add 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock and 750ml water, season to taste, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is tender (15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, drizzle 3 corn cobs with olive oil and grill until tender and lightly charred (6-8 minutes). Slice kernels from cobs and add to soup, then squeeze in lime juice to taste. Check seasoning, ladle into bowls, scatter with halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta and coriander sprigs and serve with extra lime wedges.

Hot tip
+ Quinoa contains a high level of saponin, which can give it a bitter, soapy flavour, so rinse it well before cooking - tip it into a fine sieve and hold it under cold running water for a few minutes, then drain it well.

Here are some more quinoa recipes to try.

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