Archive for January, 2010

Quinoa: African Peanut Quinoa Soup

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

African Quinoa Peanut

If you haven’t tried quinoa yet, this toothsome African peanut soup will surely lure you in. It has a slew of nutritious vegetables in a creamy, peppery broth with lovely bits of crunchy quinoa. The soup makes the rotation in my comfort food repertoire several times during the cold-weather season because it is both healthy and decadent.

Although quinoa is native to the South American Andes region (read about its origins), it is now cultivated around the world – from Colorado to the Himalayas to Ethiopia and other areas of East Africa. This dish has a definite African influence – the use of nuts to thicken the stew, and staple ingredients such as sweet potatoes and okra. Frankly, it’s the peanut-based sauce that makes this dish a stand-out. If you don’t like peanuts, you won’t appreciate this dish. But, for nut fiends, you’re in for a treat.

Yes, I’m one of those people who eats spoonfuls of nut butter just because I can. So, when I came across the original recipe for this soup online at several years ago (the original recipe is no longer on the site), I knew I had to try it. Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned it:  the recipe below is more aggressive with spices and chiles; it also has more veggies, peanut butter and quinoa; and, the consistency is that of a soup rather than a thick stew.

This recipe doubles easily and has been a hit at parties with vegetarians and meat-eaters. It’s a great way to introduce quinoa into your diet. And, if you’re already eating the “Mother Grain,” its a must-have recipe.

Tidbits on Quinoa:

  1. As quinoa cooks, the pearls of germ separate and form tiny spirals. The cooked grain is tender, with a slight crunchiness from the germ (see spirals in image below).
  2. Colorado, with its high altitude and cold climates, was crucial testing ground for introducing quinoa to the United States in the mid-70s. Don McKinley and Steve Gorad, founded the Quinoa Corporation in Boulder, Colo., and first planted quinoa seeds in their backyards and eventually in plots in the San Luis Valley. However, most quinoa sold in the United States is imported from South America.
  3. A quinoa plant can grow to anywhere from three feet to over ten feet tall. Plant stems can be straight or branched, and seeds can vary in color from white, yellow, gray, light brown, pink, black to red.


Quinoa: Cardamom Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Cardamom Quinoa

Since I started this blog I’ve become a food history nerd. I get excited about sexy stuff like botanical names and species, nutritional makeup, and how an ingredient was cultivated and used in a particular culture. As I learn, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of food and its long, long journey over time and distance to my plate.

If you’re unfamiliar with quinoa, chew on this . . . Today, quinoa is considered a “superfood” and I’d venture to say it’s on the brink of becoming very mainstream.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) dates back more than 5,000 years and was a staple to millions of South American natives. The grain has a texture between millet and couscous, and can easily be substituted for rice or ground into flour. It was an ideal food in the Andes mountain region, where it sustained the altiplano Incas in Peru and Bolivia. It is high in protein and grows well in cold and high altitude areas; locations where maize could not grow.

The Incas considered quinoa to be sacred and referred to it as the “Mother Grain.” It was used in ceremonial practices, as well as consumed daily in porridges and soups. After the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire in the 1500s, production declined for centuries. The Spaniards destroyed quinoa crops and forbid its cultivation because of its use in non-Christian rituals. Fortunately for us, the grain grew wild and people in remote villages still cultivated it.

Over the last several hundred years it has slowly re-emerged. The demand for quinoa has spread worldwide, particularly in the United States the last 40 years. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is your chance.

Take a lesson from the Incas, quinoa makes for a hearty and comforting breakfast. Like a porridge of oats or other grains, it’s easy to make and even better with cardamom, cinnamon, nuts, and dried or fresh fruit.

Tidbits on Quinoa:

  1. Before cooking quinoa, always rinse the grain well to remove its slightly bitter coating. Rinse as you would rice, until water runs clear.
  2. Quinoa is used and referred to as a grain but technically is a seed. Quinoa seeds expand about four times their size when cooked.
  3. Quinoa is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids, including lysine, which is usually deficient in most grains. It is high in protein (8 grams/1 cup cooked), fiber (5 grams/1 cup) and a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also good for those eating gluten-free.


Quinoa: SAME Cafe’s Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

SAME Cafe - Denver

This post is my introduction to quinoa. It’s a little out of the ordinary because SAME Café is out of the ordinary . . .

It’s a sunny winter day in Denver, still several minutes before the doors open at SAME Café and there’s a line of people forming outside on this East Colfax sidewalk. The group is a mix of sorts – several in tattered clothes, others in suits, and a few hip folks with piercings and tattoos. They are here for lunch. This, however, is no regular café.

SAME is short for “So All May Eat” and the unusual mode of business here is that people pay what they want. Yeah, that’s right, there’s no set menu price. And, for folks who can’t pay, they can work in exchange. There’s no cash register, just a donation box where people pay what they feel their meal was worth. And, if a person can, leave a little more to help out someone less fortunate.

The nonprofit has been open for three years. In 2009, SAME served over 18,500 meals; since it opened – almost 35,000 meals. It is not a soup kitchen. It’s a communal concept based on dignity with good food at its core. A typical menu looks something like this:  Zuppa Tuscana Soup, Beer Cheese Soup, Chicken Salad, Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad, Sausage & Mushroom Pizza, Apple Walnut & Bleu Cheese Pizza, and cookies. The menu changes daily and focuses on seasonal ingredients with vegetarian options always offered in the daily menu of soups, salads and pizzas.

This month SAME Café was recognized with the Channel 7 Everyday Hero Award and also an impressive MSN Hometown Heroes Award, an online viewer voting contest connected to their NBC Nightly News segment with Brian Williams (watch the video).

SAME is the brainchild of Brad and Libby Birky who were concerned about the hunger issue here in Denver. The two work full-time at the café, along with one part-time employee and the many volunteers who help with meal preparation, cleaning and numerous miscellaneous tasks.

Notably, Libby is also the “Salad Queen” and she generously allowed me to come observe her in action as she prepared the quinoa salad. Her recipe is below with my measurements/ratios (she made a gargantuan bowlful; the recipe is adjusted for a smaller quantity). The salad is refreshing with the citrus-based dressing, fresh parsley and sweet raisins. For those unfamiliar with quinoa salads, this version is tabouleh-esque.

How to Support SAME:

2010 is off to a busy start at SAME. The economic downturn is one reason, as is the season – when the temperatures drop the café sees more people in need of a warm meal. Here’s how you can support their mission:

  • Go in to eat. The food is lovely, particularly the salads and soups!
  • Email them about volunteering
  • Make a donation, financial or in-kind (see their wish list in their weekly blog)
  • Spread the word (share this post with friends and colleagues – see the green icon below). Their meal count helps their funding prospects.

Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad - Parsley Quinoa - Summer


Black Eyed Peas: Vietnamese Sweet Rice & Bean Pudding – Che Dau Trang

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Che Dau Trang Coconut Milk Sweet Rice Bean Pudding

A lot of folks still make resolutions for the New Year. I’m one of them. This year I’ve vowed to be a better me in 2010. I’m calling it 3B: better, bolder and badder. To do it I’ve got to break away from what’s comfortable and lean toward that which makes me apprehensive. You know the things big and small where you silently say to yourself – maybe I shouldn’t, maybe I can’t or I won’t like it. In 2010, I aim to be open to the possibilities.

This recipe for sweet rice and beans is a step in that direction . . . it’s out of the ordinary for my palate but I was pleasantly surprised. When I was researching black eyed peas and the different cultural preparations for these legumes last month, my brows rose with curiosity when I first learned about che dau trang, a Vietnamese sweet rice and bean dish. See, when I eat Vietnamese, my lips smack for spicy lemongrass sauce, salty fish sauce, pho or bun. But since I’m working on my 3B, I resolved to at least try this sweet bean pudding. And, I’m glad I did.

Che (sweet dessert soups or puddings) is believed to have originated in the central region of Vietnam. Che dau (sweet bean dessert) is made in numerous variations, the name changing with the beans that are used – for example, mung (xanh), azuki (do), black (den) and white/black eyed peas (trang).

Sweet bean desserts are a popular snack food because of their hearty contents – beans and sticky rice. Typically, the black eyed pea version is a bit thicker and sets up like a rice pudding. Since they are also sweet and rich, they are definitely decadent enough to be considered a dessert.  It’s usually enjoyed hot or chilled. Although it is also enjoyed in a tall glass over ice, eaten with a long spoon. An interesting cultural note from Anh, my Vietnamese friend’s momma, is that it is tradition to serve che dau trang when celebrating a baby’s one month birthday.

This is not just novelty fare. I was delighted with my first bite. The beans are cooked just right, not too firm or mushy, and are a nice contrast to the creamy coconut rice. I doubt I could eat but a spoonful after a meal, but I would enjoy this again as a tasty breakfast porridge or as the Vietnamese do – as a snack.

Tidbits on Black Eyed Peas

  1. Black eyed peas are believed to originally hail from Africa or India, and subsequently were grown in Asian countries. From there, they were introduced into the West Indies and to the American South around the 1600s.
  2. Black eyed peas provide a good source of calcium, folate, iron, potassium and fiber.

Source: (see Vietnam Food History),, Encyclopedia of Food and History