KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Travel opens up one’s eyes to new cultures and sights; it opens up one’s ears to new languages and conversations. Above all, travel opens up one’s palate to new flavours. One’s taste buds long for dishes once savoured and sorely missed ever since.
This, certainly, is how I felt about my trip to South America, in particular Peru. Some say the mash-up of indigenous ingredients (from Inca times) and immigrant influences (European, Asian and African) makes Peru the continent’s culinary capital.
From ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice) to cuy (barbecued guinea pig), Peruvian flavours are unique and sometimes not that easily replicated. Try sourcing guinea pig at your local market and you’ll know what I mean.
One Peruvian ingredient I can bring home with me and play with in my kitchen is quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”). First domesticated by Andean peoples around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, quinoa was a sacred crop of the Incas, who called it chisaya mama or “mother of all grains.” Today, it is seen as an excellent gluten-free alternative to starchy grains, especially for celiac sufferers.
Fluffy, slightly crunchy (as one would expect from a seed), creamy and nutty in flavour, quinoa can be both a delicious grain replacement as well as a simple way to add some substance and nutrition to your dishes. It is chock full of B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and dietary fibre.
Quinoa is also a complete protein source as it contains all nine essential amino acids, a boon for vegans who often struggle to get enough protein in their plant-based diets. It’s perfect for salads, really.
To increase the nutritional punch, why not add some savoury slices of grilled halloumi? A firm, unripened white cheese from Cyprus, halloumi is traditionally made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. As it’s brined, halloumi has a strong salty flavour which balances well with the crisp freshness of salad greens.
Avocados are a good source of B vitamins, which help fight disease and infection, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Ruby-red cherry tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which has antioxidant properties and promotes bone health. Even something as simple as lime juice can aid in weight loss and improved digestion
This is one rainbow-hued salad that will surely help keep the doctor away!
QUINOA WITH HALLOUMI SALAD
When purchasing quinoa at the grocery store, look for packets or boxes that are labelled organic. Make sure the packet and boxes are free from tears or holes, as quinoa is susceptible to damage from moisture. Once opened, store in airtight container and place it in a cool, dry place. Stored this way, it can easily last for several months.
When cooking quinoa, you may notice some foam created. This results from a compound called saponin that coats the quinoa grains and gives them an undesirable bitter taste. Usually processing after harvesting removes the saponins, but there may be some leftover coating on the grains. To avoid this, place the quinoa in a sieve and wash under running water.
After a thorough rinsing, the quinoa grains can be cooked in a similar fashion as rice — either in a pot on a stove or using a rice cooker. The rule of thumb is to use two cups of water to one cup of quinoa; this results in roughly four servings of cooked quinoa.
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 block of halloumi cheese, cut into 1-inch slices
1 avocado, cubed
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 packet of mixed salad leaves
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon organic honey
Juice of 2 limes
Ground black pepper to taste
If using the stove, place the quinoa, water and sea salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the grains have absorbed all the water. Alternatively, if using the rice cooker, cook as with rice.
Once the quinoa is ready, use a ladle to stir the grains vigorously so that they get fluffy and do not stick together. You can always prepare the quinoa this way ahead of time, freeze them and reheat in a microwave or in a non-stick pan.
To prepare the halloumi, cut the block of cheese into 1-inch slices and grill on a hot griddle pan, approximately a minute on each side. Combine the warm quinoa, grilled halloumi slices, avocado, cherry tomatoes and salad leaves in a mixing bowl.
Prepare the dressing by mixing the coconut oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, lime juice and black pepper. Do not salt any further as the quinoa and halloumi are already salty. Dress and toss the salad.
Serves four as an appetiser or as a main meal if accompanied by lightly toasted flat breads (e.g. naan or pita) and yoghurt.
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com/weekend-kitchen/