It’s been about a decade since quinoa first broke into the Passover market, and while the Andean nongrain grain still meets with some culinary and rabbinic skepticism, it is making inroads on both fronts, securing its spot both at the Passover table and in fine restaurants.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a South American staple — part of the Incan diet for millennia — that was first imported into the United States in the early 1980s. It’s a small, pearly grain with a fibrous tail, versatile taste and satisfying texture.
“Nutritionally, it’s a powerhouse,” said Rachel Beller, a registered dietitian and founder of the Beller Nutritional Institute. She rattles off a nutritional profile that includes manganese, iron, folate, calcium and a variety of vitamins. Quinoa’s biggest selling point is its high protein content — it is the only vegetable that is a complete protein, packing the right balance of amino acids.
It is also gluten-free and easy on the stomach, Beller notes, though it has only a moderate level of fiber — a half-cup serving has about two grams of fiber, 120 calories and four grams of protein.
The Bible lists five forbidden chametz grains — barley, rye, oats, wheat and spelt — which all rise when they touch water. Fifteenth-century Ashkenazi (European) rabbis appended kitniyot — legumes and other grains that were used to make flour or processed alongside and often mixed with chametz grains. The list includes beans, rice, corn and some seed-based spices, such as mustard.
Sephardic leaders of North Africa and Muslim countries generally allowed kitniyot, with customs varying from country to country.
Kitniyot remains a somewhat fluid category, with new issues arising from year to year — cumin seems to go on and off the list, for instance, and decades ago peanuts were deemed permitted by the preeminent rabbinic decider Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, but today peanuts are considered kitniyot by most Ashkenazi rabbis.
Where quinoa will land is not yet clear.
Quinoa is a member of the goosefoot (chenopodium) family, home to beets and spinach. Rabbis first opined on quinoa in 1997, when the Star-K certification determined that it was not a biblical chametz grain, and it doesn’t rise when it comes in contact with water — in fact, it decays. It grows in arid, high altitudes, where chametz grains can’t grow.
Organizations such as the highly respected Chicago Rabbinical Council, the O-K, the Star-K and Kosher Overseers Associates of America (the “half-moon K”) have allowed the use of quinoa processed by companies that don’t process any other grains, such as Ancient Harvest. O-K certifies Eden Foods for Passover, and Osem in Israel imports Sugat quinoa.
But the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kashrut supervision agency in the country, isn’t taking any chances.
“Facilities that process and package quinoa often package grain or wheat, as well, and the concern is that there also might be mixtures of wheat that could get into the quinoa, or that the equipment is not cleaned between one grain and another,” said Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, senior rabbinic coordinator of the OU.
The OU won’t certify kitniyot but doesn’t go so far as forbidding it. Its Passover catalog advises kosher consumers to consult their own rabbis and to check any quinoa for other grains mixed in.
That sort of hemming and hawing about quinoa could lead to its demise, worries Adeena Sussman, a food writer and recipe developer based in New York City.
“I have a lurking fear that people will get overzealous and not be able to just enjoy this Passover revelation,” she said.
She says the nutty, earthy flavor of quinoa and its health profile has endeared it to many top chefs. She has seen it at fine restaurants mostly in timbale form, a side dish of molded grain. She enjoys it as a base for a pilaf or salad, with herbs, lemon zest, an acid and flavorful oil. She’s made a rich breakfast pudding out of it, used it for stuffed cabbage, as a stand-in for pasta in soups and has crafted a quinoa-potato fritter.
Still, quinoa hasn’t quite shed its stigma of being a hippie food, and some people just don’t like it, she said.
“A lot of people get a bad impression of quinoa if it’s not prepared properly,” she said.
The two biggest mistakes people make are overcooking it, so it gets soggy and tasteless, or not rinsing the grains three times to get rid of a natural soapy residue that can be bitter.
Beller advises keeping an eye on the serving size — a quarter-cup is about equivalent in calories to one slice of bread.
She is glad to see a wholesome, unprocessed food taking center stage during a holiday when people otherwise seem to forget healthy eating behaviors.
“We lose our judgment of what we’re actually buying on Passover,” said Beller. “A lot of families buy a lot more junk, because they think, ‘What is my kid going to eat?’ ... But they don’t realize there are so many different options out there,” she said.
“Leading up to Passover, we clean our kitchens and our homes, we get rid of so many things,” she said. “Carry that message over into your diet. If you carry that mentality, you’ll do much better. But I find that most people do the opposite.”
Cooking With Quinoa
Food writer and recipe developer Adeena Sussman (www.adeenasussman.com) recommends this method for optimal flavor and texture:
Rinse the quinoa in cold water three times, using clean water each time. Cover quinoa in a few inches of water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, then strain. Transfer quinoa to fine mesh steamer basket, or steamer basket lined with a triple layer of cheesecloth (to prevent quinoa from falling through). Set over a few inches of simmering water. Cover with a damp towel and steam for additional 10 to 15 minutes, until light and fluffy.
ADEENA SUSSMAN’S QUINOA FRITTERS WITH LEMON-HORSERADISH MAYONNAISE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Makes 16 to 18 fritters
For the mayonnaise:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (regular or light)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons jarred horseradish
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
For the fritters:
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup canola oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
To make the flavored mayonnaise, in a medium bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, horseradish, salt, pepper and all but a pinch of the lemon zest. Spoon into a small ramekin and garnish with additional parsley and the remaining zest. Set aside.
To make the fritters, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the onions and sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the onion mixture to a bowl to cool slightly.
Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and set aside.
In a large bowl, use a fork to mix together the mashed potatoes and eggs. Stir in the quinoa, matzo meal, parsley, salt, pepper and the sautéed onion mixture.
Return the skillet to the burner over medium-high. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of oil and heat until very hot but not smoking.
One at a time, scoop the fritter mixture into balls, about 2 tablespoons each. Place 4 or 5 balls in the skillet, then use a lightly oiled spatula to gently flatten them. Cook until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, about 2 minutes.
Recipes from Quinoa Corp., www.quinoa.net.
Basic quinoa preparation:
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
Place quinoa and water in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes).
You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated. Makes 3 cups.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
In a 2-quart microwave bowl, cook on high (100 percent) for 5 minutes and 60 percent for 8 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes.
For an energy-saving method, combine 1 cup water to each 1/2 cup of quinoa in a pan. Bring to a full boil for 5 minutes, and then set aside, covered, for 15 minutes.
For additional flavor, substitute chicken broth or vegetable stock for the water in any of the methods listed above.
*Ancient Harvest Quinoa has already been washed with pure water and solar-dried to remove the natural bitter saponin coating.
For hot breakfast cereal, bring 2 cups water to a boil, add 1 cup quinoa, reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup thinly sliced apples, 1/3 cup raisins, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and simmer until water is absorbed. Serve with milk or cream and sweeten to taste with honey or brown sugar.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup green onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
6 cups quinoa, cooked (basic recipe)
Salt to taste
1 cup sliced almonds
Sauté chopped vegetables in olive oil until clear, yet crisp: stir in oregano. Add sautéed vegetables to cooked, hot quinoa, mixing well. Add salt to taste. Dry-roast almonds in heavy skillet until lightly golden. Add almonds and mix. Serves 6-8.
Quinoa pilaf served as a side dish with fish or chicken is delicious. Vary the pilaf using your favorite vegetables, or by cooking the quinoa in chicken, fish or vegetable stock instead of water.
2 cups quinoa, cooked
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoon fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried mint
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves, whole
1/4 cup sliced olives
Place all ingredients except olives and lettuce in a mixing bowl and toss together lightly. Chill for 1 hour or more to allow flavors to blend. Wash and dry lettuce leaves and use them to line a salad bowl. Put tabouli into the bowl atop the lettuce leaves and garnish with olives. Serves 4.
2 cups quinoa, cooked (basic recipe)
3 cups milk
_ cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup honey or 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup almonds or walnuts, ground
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cups raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange rind, grated
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased baking dish or greased individual custard cups. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven until set, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold, topped with yogurt, cream or applesauce. Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
4 large or 6 medium green peppers
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes, coarsely diced (reserve juice)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jar (12 ounces) Mexican salsa
2 tablespoons dry sherry
10 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook traditional quinoa following basic directions (add 1 cup quinoa to 1 1/2 cups boiling water, return to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes). Steam 4 large or 6 medium green peppers until soft but not limp. In a large skillet, sauté the onion and mushrooms in butter. Add the diced tomatoes (reserve the juice). Add the crushed garlic and Mexican salsa. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer 10 more minutes. Fold in quinoa. Place peppers in baking dish and fill with quinoa mixture. This will take about half the mixture. Thin remainder with reserved juice and pour around peppers. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over peppers and bake for 30-35 minutes. Makes 4 servings.