Cooking with Quinoa
When my friend Sandra and I set out to create our company Pica Peru Culinary Vacations, we decided that, in addition to building the business’ travel itineraries and website, we also need to take Peruvian cooking classes. We contacted chef Carla to help with that, and she had one simple job—to teach us the Peruvian classics.
For weeks, Carla unveiled the secrets to dishes like beefy Peruvian stir-fry, lomo saltado, and tangy ceviche. She guided us on now to cure a wok and slice onions paper thin. But she must have tired of giving the lessons that Peruvian grandmothers usually teach, because one day she showed up with a bag of quinoa.
Quinoa, while a native grain to Peru, is not widely used in the country’s traditional cooking. But the young chefs in Lima, like Carla, have picked it up and brought it into contemporary Peruvian cooking in unexpected ways.
That day with chef Carla, we made Mediterranean dishes. She showed us how to cook up quinoa, substituting it in recipes where Turks might have used bulgur or Italians might have used rice. We made fresh, crunchy quinoa tabbouleh—a mix of hearty parsley, sweet tomatoes, and crunchy quinoa—followed by creamy quinoa risotto. The rich, melty cheese dish had nuttier texture than the traditional rice version.
I lost touch with chef Carla when I returned to the United States, but I still find myself looking for ways to bring quinoa into recipes. If a chicken recipe calls for rice, I use the Andean grain. When making hot cereal in the morning, I turn to high protein quinoa, just as often as I look to oatmeal.
Like chef Carla, I find that quinoa makes a great substitute. With the versatile Andean grain, sticking to the basics isn’t necessary.
Easy Quinoa Substitutions
If you’d like to use more quinoa in your meals, consider these simple substitutions.
• Use quinoa in place of oats for your morning hot cereal.
• Toss cooked quinoa with freshly chopped parsley, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper for quinoa pilaf.
• Sprinkle cooked quinoa over salads in place of croutons.
• And of course, use it instead of rice in cheesy risotto or bulgur in tabbouleh salad.