Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quinoa, chickpea (garbanzo), avocado and olive salad

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is gaining popularity in European cuisine.  It is no longer confined to the shelves of health food stores and can also be found in most mainstream supermarkets.  The United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa to highlight the virtues of this "golden grain of the Incas".

Quinoa is the seed of a broad leaf plant of Andean origin which is botanically related to the common broad leaf weed fat hen (UK) or lamb's quarters (US), and is often used like a grain.  It has a mild nutty flavour and is easy to cook.

Quinoa is as versatile as rice but it has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains, because it contains all the essential amino acids.  In particular, quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair.  It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.

Not only this, but the crop has a remarkable adaptability to different agro-ecological regions. It can grow at relative humidity from 40% to 88%, and withstands temperatures from -4 ° C to 38 ° C. It is a highly water efficient plant, is tolerant and resistant to lack of soil moisture, and produces acceptable yields with rainfall of 100 to 200 mm (FAO).  Whilst Peru, Bolivia and the USA are the main producers, it is currently being successfully cultivated in several countries in Europe and Asia.

There are more than three thousand varieties of quinoa, grouped into five main classes according to the altitude at which they can grow,  The different varieties produce seed of different colours.

Varieties of quinoa (www.fao.org)

Cooking quinoa

One of the beauties of quinoa is that it only takes 15 minutes to cook, so you can use it to prepare a nutritious meal in a hurry.

Measure 1 cup quinoa, wash it, drain it and place it in a pot with 1 1/2 cups water.  Put on the lid and cook on a medium flame until it boils, then reduce to a minimum flame and simmer for 15 minutes or until all the water has gone.  Do not remove the lid during cooking.  It is easy to tell when it is done because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them.

When the quinoa has cooked, you can then mix in your choice of salad ingredients.  


  • 1 cup red quinoa (rinsed in cold water)
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • I can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), marinated in dressing (see ingredients below)
  • 1 avocado (peeled, chopped and sprinkled with fresh lime juice to prevent browning) 
  • 12 olives (green, black or mixed)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (washed, de-seeded and chopped)
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper (washed de-seeded and chopped)
  • 1 handful fresh basil (washed and finely chopped)
  • Fresh basil to garnish


Juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic - pressed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice (grate 1 cm piece root ginger and squeeze juice out. For more details please click here)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil

1. Combine ingredients for dressing and marinade chickpeas in it while quinoa is cooking
2. Add water to quinoa in a thick-based pan. Cover and bring to boil. Turn heat down low and simmer for 15 minutes until quinoa is cooked and water has evaporated.
3. When quinoa has cooled, mix in all other ingredients and garnish with fresh basil.

Serve as a one-dish meal for lunch or as a side dish as part of dinner.

Other ideas for salad ingredients include cherry tomatoes; carrots; spring onions (scallions); other fresh herbs like parsley, coriander (cilantro), lemon balm, oregano, marjoram; cashew nuts; and beans.  

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