Quinoa: Crunchier than Ever

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Not long ago, quinoa was as mysterious as dark matter. Few could even pronounce the name of this ancient, disk-shaped “super grain” from the Andes, mistakenly calling it kwih-NO-ah (it’s KEEN-wah). It tasted a little strange, home cooks didn’t know what to do with it and only vegan restaurants put it on menus.

Now quinoa is everywhere, and seemingly everyone knows everything about it. You probably recognize its grassy flavor and faintly crunchy texture. If I told you that it’s not a grain at all, but rather a chenopod related to spinach and beets, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. And perhaps you know that worldwide demand for quinoa has become so high that many of those who live in the regions of Bolivia where the crop is grown can no longer afford to buy it.

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Giant Quinoa “Tamale” with Tomatillo Salsa

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By Freya Bellin

This recipe may sound like a far cry from a traditional tamale; here, there are no corn husks, no dough, and no meat. But somehow the flavor and consistency of a real tamale is achieved. I will admit that mine definitely didn’t come out as the instructions suggested it would. You need to really grease the pan if you want the mixture to emerge in loaf form. Adding a little fat to the quinoa, either in the form of cheese or a little oil, might have helped the quinoa layers set and stay together better. Of course, it will taste just as good if it spills out into a giant pile, as did mine, but appearance-wise it will be lacking some elegance. 

No matter—this dish was delicious, if not beautiful. The cheese layer melts in the oven and the outer edges of the quinoa crisp up nicely, although the real highlight for me was the tomatillo salsa. As mentioned below, it could be reserved and used for other dishes as well. The tomatillos are pretty sweet, and you can adjust the spiciness depending on the pepper you use. Make a little more than the recipe calls for; you’ll want to have some extra. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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