Quinoa treasure refound
By Carolyn Best
Food treasures of Central and South America were carried around the globe following the Spanish conquest of the 1500s. But while corn, beans and potatoes dramatically altered world agriculture and the lives of much of humanity, quinoa, which may be the most nutritious foodstuff on our planet, fell into oblivion.
Quinoa was the food of the people in the Andean regions of South America – the Inca, the Aymara and the Quechua. The Aymara could talk to the stars, and the stars had gifted them with the golden grain, quinoa. The resilient crop, which thrives in the most unforgiving of landscapes, was cultivated by the Inca over one million hectares at the time of the Spanish arrival, feeding millions across a vast empire. Over millennia, the Inca and their predecessors had transformed their world in order to grow the sacred crop, hewing irrigation canals and cisterns out of the mountainsides and cutting the hills into terraces of incredible steepness. Each spring, the Inca emperor sowed the first seeds of the season with a golden “taquiza” or planting stick. At harvest, the gathered quinoa was offered up to the sun god Inti in a fountain of gold.
In 1526, when conquistador Francisco Pizarro reached Peru on his second voyage, his lust for treasure was accompanied by a crusader’s zeal to convert the Inca to Christianity.
To do that, he saw it as necessary to destroy their culture and identity. Pizarro’s aims were made easier to achieve; by the time of his second landing, one half to three quarters of the population of Peru had died from the smallpox which the Spaniards had introduced into the New World on their first visit. The empire was in chaos and succumbed to the strange beings so greedy for gold that the Inca believed the foreigners must need to consume it in order to live.
Quinoa fields and terraces were ruthlessly burnt until the grain could only be found in the highest and most remote locales. The Spanish denigrated it as “food for Indians” and violently suppressed it because of its centrality to indigenous religious ceremonies and beliefs.
Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, who served from 2006 to 2019, made the following statement: “For years quinoa was looked down on just like the indigenous movement. To remember the past is to remember discrimination against quinoa and now after so many years it is reclaiming its rightful recognition as the most important food for life.”
Only in the 1970s was quinoa introduced to the wider world, with many benevolent effects. It now appears in the gastronomic fare of cuisines across the world and is an amazing boon to our health.
In South America, the resurgence of quinoa offers increased food security to many though its increasing popularity has made it more expensive for traditional consumers. A migratory movement of “re-peasantization,” in which urban refugees are enabled to return to working the land, has followed the new demand for quinoa in the southern altiplano of Bolivia and other locales.
In 2013, the UN General Assembly recognized the ancestral practices of the Andean people who have preserved quinoa as a food for present and future generations through their knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature. 2013 was declared the Year of Quinoa to “draw the world’s attention to the role that quinoa could play in providing food security, nutrition, and poverty eradication in support of achieving Millennium Development goals.”
Carolyn Best is the former proprietor/chef of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom, and a regular Glebe Report contributor on food.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 tsp salt
- 1¾ cups water
- Rinse and drain the quinoa through a fine mesh sieve. Add to water, salt, bring to a boil, then reduce heat for 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Let cool before stirring.
- Combine the following:
- 2 cups finely chopped parsley
- 1 cup finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 cup finely diced carrot
- 1 bunch green onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Cover with a dressing of:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Stir in the quinoa (white or red)
QUINOA STUFFED PEPPERS
- Cook 2 cups rinsed quinoa in 3½ cups water, with 1 tsp salt.
- Take 9 (depending on size) red, yellow or orange bell peppers, cut out the stems and hollow the shells, removing membranes and seeds.
- Grate 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese and stir into the cooled quinoa with 1 to 2 cups green tomatillo salsa.
- Stuff the peppers, settle them upright in a glass baking dish. Fill the dish to a one-inch depth with water and bake at 375* for 45 minutes.
- Stuffed peppers and taboolie made with quinoa, one of the food treasures of south and central America
By Marisa Romano
Symbols of peace among nations, olive trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean basin for millenia. The ancient plants found in thriving groves, some so old that they produce the same olive oil that the Romans savoured, represent centuries of history, culture and tradition.
Nowadays some olive farmers in Apulia – the southern Italian region that produces 40 per cent of the country’s olive oil – are wondering if they are witnessing the loss of their family treasures and the landscape that they have always known.
The threat is olive tree leprosy, a disease that has no known cure. The culprit is Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium carried from plant to plant by a sap-sucking insect. Once it takes hold, Xylella prevents plants from sucking water; curled-up leaves and shrivelled fruits drop, leaving behind ghostly groves.
Xylella is described by the European Commission as “one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide.” Previously unknown in the European Union, it was introduced in Apulia’s Salentine peninsula by infected ornamental coffee plants imported from Costa Rica. Since the first outbreak in 2013, olive tree leprosy has travelled north and infected an estimated 21 million trees.
The containment measures directed by the European Commission include the culling and burning of infected trees to provide buffer zones at the edge of contaminated areas. Similar to forest fire management, it is necessary to destroy the trees ahead of the menace to stop the devastation.
“If we did what they ask us to do, we would have a desert” was the general sentiment among farmers in denial who feared the loss of all they had. Growers’ resistance to the imposed clear cut has allowed the disease to advance quickly.
To date, the whole Salentine peninsula in Apulia is declared an “affected zone,” as are French Corsica and the nearby Spanish Balearc Islands. Outbreaks in other areas of France and Spain have been controlled by culling, but scientists and growers now know Xylella is there to stay and point to resistant varieties of olive trees as a possible management tool.
“Has all this affected the price of olive oil?” I asked Elizabeth Kilvert, owner of The Unrefined Olive, the store on Second Avenue that offers a large selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars sourced from small artisanal producers worldwide.
She explained that the cost of olive oil has risen, but she thinks the main driver could be the soaring demand in kitchens around the world, with new users drawn by the “discovery” of the health benefits of the golden oil.
But what about the taste? Yes, good olive oil grabs you for its flavour and for what it adds to all dishes, but Kilvert warns that a lot of the olive oil on the market is not what it is said to be – even some labelled “extra virgin” have been tamed by manipulations and dilutions with other oils. As an oleologist – an olive oil sommellier – Kilvert describes the taste of pure fresh extra-virgin olive oil as a balance of fruitiness, bitterness and pungency, and she recognizes that taste preferences play a role in the choice of the preferred table oil. It is for this reason that she has set up her store so that clients can experience, taste and learn the ins and outs of olive oil before taking home their favoured bottle, a pick-me-up for that special dish.
A food lover, Kilvert shares one of her recipes with olive oil. This one is suited to vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free diets. For other yummy recipes and all that you need to know about olive oils and balsamic vinegars, check her website: unrefinedolive.com, and drop by 151-A Second Avenue to thrill your taste buds.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.
Italian Chickpea Stew
- 2 tbsp Milanese Gremolata olive oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 large can chickpeas
- 2 cans diced tomatoes
- salt and pepper
- 3-4 cups fresh spinach
- 2 tbsp Sicilian Lemon white balsamic
- In a large sauce pan heat the Milanese Gremolata olive oil and add the onion. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and stir.
- Add the Italian seasoning and the tomato paste and stir.
- Add the chickpeas and diced tomatoes.
- Cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add the spinach and stir until just wilted.
- Serve on top of your favourite grain and drizzle with
- Sicilian Lemon white balsamic.
Elizabeth Kilvert’s Italian chickpea stew gets a flavour kick from good olive oil. Photo: unrefinedolive.com