Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Apple Curry Quinoa Salad and a Trip to the Andes

The mother of all grains meets the mother of all media.
This Martha Stewart-adapted quinoa recipe got me thinkin' about the Incans, so I took out some old trip pics for a blast from the past. Park your alpaca and sit for a bit.

Grainy pics and grainy souvenirs. Quinoa is spelled Quinua and amaranth is Kiwicha.

Ah, quinoa. I remember that humble, yet pleasant peasant food that grew high in the soil of the picturesque Andes. We first met in 1998 in Peru and Bolivia, and I wondered where it had been all my life—or any of our lives in the West for that matter. That was long before it had become a first-world pantry staple and proclaimed a superfood by the superfood proclamators (I’d like to know how you become a superfood proclamator, as I’m looking for new career options). Yep, quinoa has come a long way from the Inca empire to the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia empire. And that’s a good thing, right?

Well, it depends on who you ask. A couple of years ago I had read in The Guardian and The New York Times that because of quinoa’s huge popularity in the West, the indigenous people couldn’t afford to eat it anymore since they were exporting most of it to us at premium prices. That meant they were eating cheaper processed foods like noodles and white rice. Indigenous people forced to swap the rich, ancestral crop they had been growing for thousands of years for nutritionally inferior "white" food? Only in a Pizarro world. On the other hand, I also read that this economic boon has allowed the Andean people to become more self-sufficient and are able to diversify their diet by adding more fresh vegetables. So if we buy quinoa, are we taking it off their plates? If we don't buy it, are we depriving them of a place at the table? Damned if you quinoa, damned if you don't. Meanwhile, I continued to buy it in moderation, unsure if I should be feeling guilty or not. Ambivalent guilt. That was new—even to me.

And now I've come to find out that according to the United Nations, 2013 is The International Year of Quinoa. Whoa. Quinoa gets its own year? Barley never got squat! Then I wondered if The International Year of Quinoa was just some PR stunt, as large corporations try to swoop in and root out the small organic quinoa farmers, which would result in environmental degradation from more aggressive cultivation. Some say that traditional, organic farming methods must be maintained to preserve the purity of the crop.

As quinoa's worldwide popularity spreads and other countries including the U.S. are trying to grow it, The Year Of Quinoa co-founder, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said, “I hope this international year will be a catalyst for learning about the potential of quinoa for food and nutrition security, for reducing poverty—especially among the world’s small farmers—and for environmentally sustainable agriculture.” And since outspoken Bolivian president Evo Morales supports The Year of Quinoa, I figure it must be okay to eat. I mean, the guy is a celebrated proponent of indigenous rights, anti-imperialism, was named "World Hero of Mother Earth" by the U.N. and has blamed our fast-food empire and transnational corporations for disease and obesity. Sounds like he's looking out for his homies, so I'm hitching my llama to Evo. Ba bye, first-world guilt. Hello, Apple Curry Quinoa Salad. I've made this recipe several times. Trust me, it's a good thing.

Apple Curry Quinoa Salad 

This was adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. The curry, apple, raisins and almonds are a sweet and spicy counterpoint to the nutty quinoa, and the mint adds a refreshing, whimsical note. I threw in a little chiffonaded kale for more greenery, but it's not necessary.

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup quinoa (2/3 white and 1/3 red for color)
1 teaspoon honey or agave
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons currants or raisins 
1 small sweet red apple, cut into thin wedges
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish
*Optional handful of kale, cut in thin strips

Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine sieve; drain. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa; return to a boil. Stir quinoa; cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until quinoa is tender but still chewy, about 15 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork; let cool.

Spread sliced almonds in a skillet over a low flame and heat until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool.

Whisk together honey, shallot, curry powder, salt, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with pepper. Whisking constantly, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream; whisk until dressing is emulsified. Add quinoa, currants or raisins, apple, mint, nuts (and kale if using); toss well. Garnish with mint.

Lentil's Breakdown
  • Quinoa is not a grain, but is a chenopod, which is a flowering plant of the goosefoot family that includes spinach, beets and pigweed.
  • High in protein, quinoa was a major crop with great importance to pre-Colombian Andean civilizations, second only to the potato. It still remains an important food for the Quechua and Aymara peoples of the rural areas in the Andes. In the Quechua language, quinoa is called chisiya, meaning ‘mother grain’.
  • Quinoa is the only plant food that has all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins.
  • It’s grown in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile, though Peru and Bolivia account for as much as 97% of global production.
  • Resistant to drought, poor soils and high salinity, it has the ability to adapt to different ecological environments and climates, offering an alternative for countries suffering from food insecurity.
  • The Rocky Mountains, much of Canada, and the Pacific Northwest all have potential as quinoa-producing regions.
  • Quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years, yet Bolivia’s consumption fell 34 percent over the same period.


  1. Thank you for digging thru your travel vault for these fab photos and great informative all packaged in your glorious humorous style. I enjoyed every morsel.

  2. I love your travel posts and your really interesting photos. This inspires me to dig out for that quinoa recipe I was going to make. Thanks!

  3. I don't know why it makes me so happy yo learn that quinoa is not a graon... GREG

  4. The same scenario is likely in Chile where all their fruit is being exported to feed the clamoring prosperous nations to the north leaving them with fruit leather. Love your unique mix of travel, food education and wit :)