Tuesday 1 April 2008

Exploring Quinoa Country

Ricki at Diet, Dessert and Dogs has got me thinking about quinoa. She is serving us with a session of quinoa posts to encourage us to share her love. I feel a bit like Dorothea McKellar in My Country: ‘I know but cannot share it, my love is otherwise.’

Quinoa is not my country. Mine is full of everyday grains like rice, barley, couscous and polenta. They offer me comfort, warmth and – dare I say – stodge. I’ve been trying to get out and visit more grains but quinoa is not one I fancy. I am happy to see other people’s holiday snaps but I am not sure I even care to learn to pronounce it (keen-wa). I know it is very good for me and full of proteins but it seems a little bit like the health resort everyone is raving about and I would just rather go to London or Paris. Then I was finally tempted by Ricki’s lovely description:

‘I love its distinctly mild, slightly nutty flavor; its chewy, almost crunchy texture; its visual impudence–that color-contrasted spiral tail slowly unfurling as the grain cooks, like a loose stitch on your favorite sweater.’

I can live without the nutrients, flavour and the texture but I had to see the loose stitches. I went out and found a red quinoa that excited me. I have cooked with quinoa before years ago and it was a forgettable experience. So forgettable that I couldn’t tell you anything about it. But red quinoa is a different matter (despite Lisa’s warning that it might take longer to cook than the white grain). So, feeling on uncertain ground, I took on the challenge of Ricki’s Almond Quinoa Muffins, adapted from Veganomicon.

As I wrote about in my previous post, I baked these during earth hour. I placed them in the oven at 8pm when we switched from electric light to candlelight. By the time they came out of the oven the kitchen was lit with a couple of small candles. Appropriate really as I feel I am still feeling my way in the dark with quinoa. In a practical sense it meant that I couldn’t check if they were golden brown. No matter, they were delicious. But barely sweet. E and I liked that but it is not for everyone. The main sweetness came from the fruit. This might be a result of me using plain milk rather than the vanilla milk which Ricki used.

And the quinoa? It was good. It had a nubbly chewy texture that pleased me in the way of oats in choc chip cookies. If you are tempted by these muffins, I would recommend you try them with red quinoa if you can as I loved the look of the wee reddish-brown polka dots. The muffins were moist and a little on the crumbly side. They make the sort of snacks that stick to your insides. One of these will keep you satisfied for a long time! Ricki called hers Almond-Quinoa Muffins but I found the almond taste was so subtle that I have renamed mine Fruity Quinoa Muffins.

I can’t say the stitches were visible in the muffins but they were certainly hanging loose in the mound of cooked quinoa. I am not sure I want to rush into the street and tell strangers they must eat quinoa. But it finally has me intrigued with these loose stitches and I will explore a little more. Who knows, I might be visiting its shores a little more in the future!

Fruity-Quinoa Muffins
(adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs)
makes 12 muffins

1 cup cow or soy milk (Ricki used vanilla soy milk)
1 tbsp. ground flaxseeds
¼ cup canola or other light-tasting oil
¼ cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup (I used agave)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
⅓ cup oats
¼ cup almond meal
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
1¼ cups cooked quinoa*
¾ cup dried fruit, chopped (I used apricots, blueberries and cranberries)

* Note: To cook the quinoa, I followed Ricki’s instructions and placed 1 cup of dry quinoa with 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring it to the boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 20 minutes. This made over twice the 1¼ cups required and I used the leftovers mixed with rice to serve with curries, stews or casseroles.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180 C) and lightly grease 12 muffins cups, or line with paper liners.

In a medium sized jug, whisk together the soymilk and flax. Allow to sit for one minute, then whisk in the oil, agave, and vanilla.

In a largish mixing bowl, place the flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until just incorporated. At this stage it is very runny but the quinoa will thicken it up a bit. Gently fold in the cooked quinoa, the oats and the dried fruit until just mixed.

Spoon into the prepared muffins tins, filling about ¾ full, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. May be frozen.

On the Stereo:
All the Way Home: Radiogram


  1. We had quinoa for a short time and then got quite bored with it or more, he realized he just can't stand it.

    But quinoa muffins, now this I need to eventually try for myself!

  2. Ooh, these look exciting! Spelt flour scares me though - I don't really know what it is! Still, it sounds as though it should be good for you. I admire your inventiveness for putting a more interesting spin on the springy grain.

  3. These sound fascinating. Might have to give them a go at the weekend.

    I must say, though, that I am now a bit hmmmmmm about trying the quinoa after these less than stellar reviews. :/

  4. I'm a huge quinoa fan and when I saw Ricki's recipe, I knew I would have to try it at some point. May I suggest my classic quinoa soup? Everyone who has tried it loves it.

    Your red quinoa cooked in 20 minutes? Maybe the red quinoa I used a while back is a different type.

  5. These sound like a very healthy snack which I am in need of! Will it make a difference if I leave out the flaxseed? My system just not get along with flaxseed :(

  6. I'm intrigued. Not a quinoa fan at all, those little spirals look like worms to me. Your muffins look wonderful though.

  7. These are very, very good. Perhaps that's the key for you, darls - quinoa added to baked goods.

    I love quinoa - it's just the sort of light grain that my body craves. A handful, cooked, chucked into soups is gorgeous.

  8. thanks Pixie - try the muffins for a new perspective on quinoa - might just get you interested again!

    thanks Lysy - I think you could probably just use white or wholemeal flour quite easily - I just used spelt because Ricki had it in the recipe and have been meaning to try some for ages but I don't know enough about spelt to know if there was much difference.

    thanks Kathleen - I would recommend this as a way to use your quinoa - if you want to hear some passion about quinoa I think Ricki will make you want to cook with it - and she has a few ideas on her posts

    thanks Lisa - looks like a good way to cook with quinoa - will put it on my list of things to do

    thanks Deb - You can easily make these without flaxseed. The flaxseed has some of the binding qualities of egg so I would substitute rather than just omit. I think you could substitute an egg for flaxseeds as flaxseeds are often used in place of eggs (or if you want to go vegan you could try something like a mashed banana).

    Thanks wendy - I prefer the loose stitches analogy to worms but I see you point :-) I am not sure I will ever have Ricki's passion for quinoa but will try and have some fun with this packet and see if I am enthused enough to buy more!

    thanks Lucy - these muffins are excellent aren't they? I will most definitely be trying quinoa in soup sometime after you and Lisa have made it sound very appealing

  9. Oooh... now this is right up my alley. I'm adding it to my must-try list!

  10. I quite like quinoa (and strangely enough my very conservative italina husband does too. He surprises me at times!) and I love spelt (Italians are mad about it too) so I think I shall try this recipe.

  11. thanks Mrs W - I think these are your sort of muffins

    thanks Nathalie - interesting that Italians are mad about spelt - I still don't quite understand its attractions. Am glad it sounds like your husband will like these too!

  12. I've been dying to make baked goods with quinoa lately! These look really good.

  13. thanks Sarah - I wish I still had some to nibble on - they were really good

  14. Oh, wow--so glad you tried these out!! I love the addition of dried fruits to these. Re: the name, I just used the same name as the original recipe in Veganomicon, but I agree that the almonds are almost an afterthought here, and not prominent at all!

  15. thanks Ricki - loved your recipe - I feel a bit cheeky changing the name but it helps me remember foods easier.


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