My teenage son, who loves watching food videos, is conscious about eating healthy and is a creative cook whenever inspiration strikes. I asked him this morning if he would have a quinoa bowl for lunch (partly because this multitasker mum wanted to test out a few quinoa recipes for this column). In response, he quipped, “Anyone claiming to enjoy quinoa must be fooling themselves.” I had a hearty laugh while trying to convince him that quinoa was not that bad.
The plant-based eating trend has propelled quinoa into the culinary limelight, ticking off boxes for whole grain, gluten-free, high protein and dietary fibre. The price of quinoa tripled from 2006 to 2013, riding on its popularity surge in the US, Europe and Australia. Stories have emerged over the years about local farmers in South America transitioning from their traditional quinoa-based diets to Western diets, as all the quinoa cultivated was kept aside to be sold at the higher price it commanded as its popularity exploded globally.
2013 was designated the International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations general assembly. Once a staple of countries like Peru and Bolivia, quinoa cultivation now spans 50 nations, including India. As a result, in India, its cost has plummeted from an initial ₹3,000 per kilogram in 2007-08 to a budget-friendly ₹300 per kilogram in 2023. This price drop is due not only to widespread demand but also because of domestic cultivation in states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Let us look at the protein profile of quinoa. All proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids and every single protein is a permutation and combination of these amino acids. Every protein we eat, be it from an animal or a plant, gets broken down into its amino acids, which are then used up as building blocks for muscle, enzymes, hormones and so on. Some of these amino acids can be built from existing substances in the body; these are called non-essential amino acids.
There are nine amino acids that are not synthesised by our body and these need to be provided from our diet. Foods that contain all nine amino acids are called complete proteins. Quinoa is one of the few plant-based foods which is a complete protein.
That said, do remember that we rarely eat ingredients in isolation. Eating a variety of foods through the day in a balanced diet ensures that we get all the required essential amino acids. By all means, add quinoa as a part of your dishes for its superior nutritional profile but there is no need to swap out your staple carbohydrates like roti or rice. Think of quinoa as a valuable addition to your culinary repertoire, complementing your existing choices.
So, what’s the secret to preparing the most delectable quinoa and winning over quinoa naysayers? Toast the grains on a hot pan until they crackle, enhancing their nutty flavour. Afterwards, rinse them thoroughly to eliminate any residual bitterness. For salads, if you are taking one cup of quinoa, use one and three-fourth cups water, and for a softer texture, use two cups of water.
Quinoa bean patties
Makes 6-8 patties
1 cup black beans (or use rajma)
1 cup quinoa
1 boiled potato
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp dried herbs
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
Oil to pan-fry the burgers
Soak the beans overnight. Drain and pressure cook with enough water to cover the beans and 1 tsp salt for 15 minutes (keeping flame on lowest setting for 15 minutes after the first whistle). Open the cooker, drain the cooked beans and spread out on a lined baking tray. Bake this for 10-15 minutes in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius. This is to dry out any excess moisture in the beans so that it does not make the burger soggy.
Wash the quinoa thoroughly and cook in two cups of water with a pinch of salt until the quinoa gets mushy. Keep aside.
Peel the boiled potato and mash it.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked beans, quinoa, potato and all the herbs and spices.
Divide into 6-8 portions and shape into patties. Refrigerate the patties for 1-2 hours, or freeze for later use.
Take the patties out of the refrigerator. Brush a pan with oil and slow cook both the sides of the patties until golden brown and crisp.
Make plant-based burgers using these patties.
Prepare a batch of these patties, shape and freeze on parchment paper-lined dish. Remove and keep in a re-sealable bag for a quick dinner or after school snack. You can air-fry or bake these burgers straight out of the freezer.
Serves 3-4 for breakfast
1 cup cooked quinoa (mushy)
1 cup cooked yellow moong dal
1-2 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp crushed black pepper corns
Half-tsp grated ginger
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp salt
Combine the soft cooked quinoa and moong dal in a large bowl.
In a pan, heat the ghee. Add cumin seeds, black pepper, ginger, green chilli, curry leaves, asafoetida and salt. Fry for 30 seconds on medium heat. Add the cooked quinoa-dal mixture to the tempering and combine well, adding 1-2 ladles of hot water to give it a porridge consistency. Let this combine on low heat for 3-4 minutes so that the flavours of the aromatics get into the pongal.
Serve hot with a coconut chutney.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail.