Get to Know Quinoa

Quinoa - Chenopodium quinoa. This ancient grain of the Andes is a traditional staple dating back to the Incas. It is very high in protein and complete amino acids. It’s popularity and spread around the world is due to the development of varieties that can thrive at lower elevations. The young flowers, the leaves and the seeds are all edible. The seed is covered with saponin or soap to protect it from being eaten by insects or birds. It needs to be washed off before cooking. This is easily done using a nut milk bag or cheesecloth to hold the tiny seeds. A few good washings over a bowl of warm water, then rinse and it is ready to cook. It is used as a cereal, cooked as a main dish or ground into flour. Lends itself perfectly to a stir fry dish or any place you would use rice. Cooking is easy, add one cup of washed quinoa to 2 cups of boiling water, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat to sit for another 10 minutes.
Cultural Notes : Quinoa is very easy to grow and can be planted in spring. It can be started in small pots in early spring or direct seeded 1/4 inch deep in later spring. It is a cool tolerant crop. Plants grow quickly and form blooming flower heads by early summer. It takes about one more month for the seed to mature. Be careful to keep the mature seed heads dry; if it rains at this stage, the seeds will sprout on the plant. Further drying under cover works just fine. If rain is in the forecast, cut off the top half of the plants and spread on screens, tarps or tables.  Once the flower heads are completely dry, strip them off the stems into a large bucket, garbage can or clean wheelbarrow. The seeds separate by rubbing them together with your hands or over screens if you have larger amounts. To clean further, place in  large plastic plant tray to winnow it . For larger amounts, add the seed to a short sided tray, such as a restaurant dish pan . Then use an electric hair dryer to blow away the chaff, holding it about 6 inches above the seeds. The heavier grain stays behind. Place the seed back in a solid tray in a warm protected spot to dry further. For long term storage, glass jars work best.
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