Cooking Canadian Quinoa

The first several times I cooked Canadian quinoa I was a bit disappointed.  Sure, it had a remarkable flavour, but it was much stickier than the South American stuff I had had before: sticky to the point of stodginess.

Eventually I remembered a lesson I learned from a guy in my culinary class.  He was from Mumbai.  Our instructor was talking about the importance of rinsing basmati rice before cooking it to remove excess starch from the surface of the grains.  Once removing this powdery starch you can combine the rice with 1.5 times its volume, then cover and steam in the usual manner.  The preliminary rinsing makes for lighter, fluffier pilafs.  The Bombayite scoffed, and when prodded he said that he cooks his rice the way we cook our dry pasta, in a huge excess of boiling water.  This way the rice is rinsed throughout the cooking process, leaving virtually no starch left on the surface to make the final dish sticky and stodgy.  But then again, he continued, he’s from India: what could he possibly know about rice?

He wasn’t actually that self-righteous about it; I just got carried away recounting the story.

Anyways, the “pasta method” is definitely the best way to cook Canadian-grown quinoa.  You still get the great, rich, nutty flavour of the quinoa, but with a lighter texture.  I boil about 6 L of well-seasoned water to cook 1 L of quinoa.

The “pilaf method” can yield acceptable results if the quinoa will be served as a hot starch.  If however you intend to serve the quinoa cold, as a salad, the pasta method is essential.

Below is just such a salad: prairie quinoa and chickpeas with red cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, and fresh cheese.

A salad made with Canadian quinoa and chickpeas

My Quinoa is from Saskatchewan

Quinoa grown in Saskatchewan, Canada

I’m strongly considering printing and laminating the above photo so I can carry it in my wallet and periodically offer it as evidence.

I’ll start at the beginning.  In some ways I hate quinoa.  Not quinoa the food, but quinoa the fad.  Like açaí berries, quinoa is a “super food” promoted by nutritionists as if everything that your body needs to be healthy could not possibly be grown in the province in which you live, but needs to come from the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, or an Andean plateau.

On the other hand, from a strictly gastronomical point of view I really like quinoa.  It’s tasty: it has a nutty flavour, sometimes verging on peanut butter, often with a piquant bitterness.  It’s extremely simple to cook.  So yes: I purchase and consume quinoa.

And every so often when I admit this someone informs me that my consumption of quinoa is disenfranchising farmers in South America.  That my gluttonous consumption of the pseudo-cereal is driving up the price so that Bolivians can’t afford it and are increasingly relying on cheaper junk food.  That the money I spend on quinoa has pressured farmers in Peru to convert what were once diverse agricultural lands to fields of just quinoa.

Then I say that I can’t have disenfranchised South American farmers, because Lisa’s mom bought us fifty pounds of quinoa from a company in Saskatchewan called NorQuin.

Then they reply that quinoa can’t grow in Canada, and that a Canadian grain farmer told them so.

Then we stare at each other incredulously and uncomfortably.

The picture at the top of this post shows the quinoa in my cupboard.  As the labelling suggests and the website testifies, it was grown in Canada.  If anyone is interested, I’m going to get some t-shirts printed that have that image on the front.  On the back it will say, “Save Peru, buy Canadian Quinoa.”