The new star in the kitchen the Quinoa

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Thanksgiving falls on the same day as Columbus Day in the United States when many Italian-Americans observe as a celebration of their heritage. They praise the name of their great explorer who brought the potatoes, tomatoes, corn and the beans from South America to Europe on the ship of Santa Maria. But on that day I think we should also say thank to the American native Indians who sublimated many wild fruits, vegetables and grains. Actually there are no European countries that can live without the Indian heritage. For instance the Italian spaghetti with tomato it would be inconceivable such as the Hungarian cuisine without paprika. The Provencal style stuffed tomatoes are just as typical French side dish as the Lyon style potatoes. The polenta and corn mush are popular cuts not only in the Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines, but also in the Hungarian’s.

The Treasure of the Incas, the potato, the corn and the quinoa

The ancient origins of Indian plants are still obscure. The majority of the botanists, archaeologists claim that the Inca civilization in Peru began in prehistoric times to produce the corn, and from there spread to Mexico, then to Missisipi Valley and to the another part of the North American continent.

During the long Inca realm there was a great variety of different climate zones. In Peru in particular, the mountain ranges provided highly varied types of growing zones at different altitudes. The staples of the Incas included various plants with edible tubers and roots like potato and sweet potato, in hundreds of varieties. Most of them are still unknown in the rest of the world. Slightly over 4,000 types are known only to Peru. There was also oca, which came in two varieties, one sweet and one bitter. The sweet variety could be eaten raw or preserved and was used as a sweetener before the arrival of sugar. The insipid, starchy root ullucu and arracacha, today we call batata or white carrot, something like a cross between carrot and celery were, like potatoes, used in stews and soups. Achira, a species of Canna, was a sweet, starchy root that was baked in earth ovens. Since it had to be transported up to the power center of Cuzco it is considered to have been food eaten as part of a tradition. Though the roots and tubers provided the staples of the Inca, they were still considered lower in rank than maize. Its name was mentioned first by the Vikings (who had already discovered America 500 years before Columbus) in 1000 AD when the great Viking sailor Leif Ericsson was sailing around Cape Cod observed a special wheat- ” the seeds among many birds lived was almost impossible to walk between the eggs.” Needless to say, that the special wheat was the corn, which had been already known in North America among the Indians. The conquistador-colonialists while searching for gold in Florida went further to New Mexico for many years they lived on corn however the colonists struggling of famine, realized only much later that the plants are cultivated by the Indians they could benefit from them, such as from the legendary treasures of the seven cities. Just the Hopi Indians (South America, West) grew 24 different kinds of corn, but the blue and white was the most common. They also grew beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, and fruit. The hopis owed the discovery of paprika as well, and introduced to the world the today most popular food, the chili con carne, which, if more then we think, was the Hungarian version of the goulash.

Amaranth was also one of the staple foods. (In addition, they used amaranth to create effigies of animals that were used in religious ceremonies. Later, the Spanish would ban the use of it for this reason).

And the Quinoa, which has been introduced only two or three years ago in Europe  (a bit similar to amaranth) is just like in the rest of Central and South America chili pepper was also an important foodstuff among the Indians and highly praised part of the diet (the Inca Army was able to subsist on quinoa and fat when on long journeys).

The name quinoa was derived from the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name kinwa or occasionally “Qin-wah”, and was originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru before they were colonized and became nation-states, where it was successfully domesticated 3000 to 4000 years ago for human consumption, though archeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5200 to 7000 years ago. They were grown and domesticated in North America as part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex well before maize agriculture became popular.


Pangasius file with quinoa and pepper sauce (my own recipe, success is guaranteed)

Ingredients: 2 pieces of fresh tomatoes, pimento, salt, pepper, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 dl coconut milk, a pinch of sugar, 25 grams of quinoa, pangasius, Brazilian fish fillets or other white fish, 1 teaspoon curry, 2 tablespoons olive (for the fish), curry flavoured flour

Cook the quinoa in salted water while you wash and slice the peppers lengthwise. Season them with salt, then put 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan or grilling grid and grill the slices of peppers on both sides. When the peppers are grilled, transfer to a blender and add a pinch of sugar and pour over coconut milk. Blend paprika well with the coconut milk, taste it, add more salt if necessary. Keep lukewarm.

Roll the pangasius fillets in curry flavoured flour and fry them in hot oil until they are crispy on both sides. When the fish is ready, convert onto a plate alongside with quinoa and pour over paprika sauce. Delicious.

Quinoa with chard or spinach

Ingredients: Half a kilos of chard or spinach, cubes made from half a liter of vegetable broth, 1 bay leaf, 2 carrots, 12 ounces Italian Parmesan cheese, 2 dl milk, 2 egg yolks, salt, pepper, 1 clove of garlic

Wash quinoa. Cook vegetables in boiling water (20 minutes). Clean and wash the spinach or chard. Slice carrot. Pour water into a pot, and when it boils throw in the carrots and Mangold. Cook for 5 minutes. If you choose spinach 1 tablespoon oil 2 cloves garlic Evaporate it, then remove the garlic in the fat, then cook the spinach in a garlic flavored oil or butter. Place in a glass bowl with some of the quinoia, grate parmesan cheese onto the half. Place the cooked vegetables, and then again a quinoiát layer, a layer of vegetables, then the remaining cheese. Mix well the egg yolks to the milk, season with nutmeg, pepper and garlic powder. Pour the milk from the grocery quinoa and put it in the oven to 200 degrees and bake 40 minutes.

Why quinoa is so popular? Because the nutrient composition is very good compared with other common cereals and gluteen free. Quinoa grains contain essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. After harvest, the grains need to be processed to remove the coating containing the bitter-tasting saponins. Quinoa grains are in general cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Quinoa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited.


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