By Kate Prengaman
I love Bon Appetite magazine, it’s like porn for foodies. I just look at the pictures, fantasize about making certain dishes or tasting certain recipes, but I rarely put any of these specific fantasies into action. I love to cook, but I’m usually too busy to devote myself to the drool-worthy recipes they suggest. But last month, I saw a recipe that I couldn’t resist, and I finally made them yesterday: Quinoa Cookies!
BA calles them breakfast cookies because they are low in sugar and high in protein and whole grains, relative to your regular desert cookies. The recipe includes whole wheat flour, oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, eggs, butter, and some sugar, and quinoa. Here’s the BA recipe!
I’ve never baked with quinoa before, but I’ve loved it for several years. These cookies are so tasty, that I decided that I needed to dedicate a blog post to quinoa. The quinoa are the seeds of a plant in the spinach family, Chenopodium quinoa. It’s not really a grain, because it’s not a seed from the grass family, like wheat, oats, and rice, but it is frequently referred to as a grain. Actually, quinoa is one of the few “grains” that is a complete protein, it contains all of the amino acids with need to get from our diet. Just like spinach, it is relatively high in iron.
Quinoa is grown in the Andes Mountains, and has been a staple food for people for centuries. Most of the world’s crop is imported from Peru and Bolivia. Related species grow across North American as well, and some used to be eaten by Native Americans, before corn was introduced. Quinoa has been increasing in popularity in the past decade as a health food. There are many varieties of the hardy crop, with seeds of different colors and sizes. The plants produce large heads of tiny flowers, which develop into the quinoa seeds. As the seeds cook, they uncurl slightly, and you can see the small curl of endosperm that was going to grow into a new seedling (if you hadn’t decided to cook it). This gives the seeds a unique look:
A chemical compound covering the seeds, called saponin, gives them a bitter taste, which protects the seeds from predators like birds. Saponins are found in lots of plants, but they characteristically foam, like soap. In addition to the bitter taste, the soapy saponin acts as a laxative. Sounds delicious, right? Luckily, people figured out that soaking the seeds for a hour or two and rinsing removes the saponins so we can enjoy eating the quinoa. Most quinoa sold in the US has been cleaned and soaked already, and is ready to cook, but I recommend reading the package (Unsuspected laxative consumption= fun for everybody!) A little extra soaking, before cooking, doesn’t hurt. Cook 1 cup seeds in 2 cups of water, until all the water has absorbed and the seeds are tender.
Quinoa has a nutty taste, and is very filling, which helps make the cookies so delicious. I also use it for a variety of “pasta salad” type dishes, with vegetables, fruits, beans, cheese, nuts, whatever. Anytime you would use rice, cous-cous, or larger pastas, you can try quinoa (Cous-cous is just tiny pasta, fyi, not a grain, like many people believe). It also makes a great oatmeal substitue for breakfast. I hope you try and enjoy these delicious seeds.
(Last year, I read some disturbing reports that Andean quinoa farmers, over-whelmed with the new cash market for their formerly subsistence crop, were no longer able to afford to eat the quinoa that they grow. I haven’t heard any news about the recently, so I am hoping that the situation has stabilized as farmers adjust and plant for the increased demand. Higher demand for quinoa should mean that the farmers who grow it are making fair wages for their crops. If anyone knows more about this situation, please let me know.)