Versatile quinoa – perfect Peruvian protein

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Barbecue season is upon us and when entertaining at home, or if asked to bring a salad, my regular offering is this delicious quinoa salad with spinach, red pepper and feta.  Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) was a staple food of the Incas and is still grown in South America.  It can be used and cooked in much the same way as grains, such as rice or couscous, but is actually a seed and is a wonderful source of vegetarian protein, containing the complete range of essential amino acids, as well as iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and fibre.

Quinoa seeds are coated in natural plant chemicals called saponins, which cause them to foam when boiled and give quinoa a slightly bitter taste, so it is best to thoroughly wash the seeds in a sieve before cooking.  I have heard some people comment that they didn’t like the taste or texture of quinoa when first using it.  I recommend that you are careful not to over-cook it – bring it to a boil and then simmer for around 5 minutes, until you see the seeds start to uncurl and float to the surface of the water.  They should be fluffy when drained, but still with a slight crunch.  Quinoa also benefits from fairly strong flavours or seasoning, which is why many of my quinoa recipes include garlic, herbs and spices.  However, it is extremely versatile and can be used to make porridge; as a crunchy coating instead of breadcrumbs; in the style of pilau rice; or as quinoa flour for use in baking.

I have been asked for this recipe so many times – so here it is!   Quinoa Salad with Spinach, Red Pepper and Feta.  It makes quite a large quantity, so if there are any leftovers, it is perfect for packed lunches and lasts around 3 days in the fridge.