Saturday, August 13, 2011

Experimenting with Quinoa and Pesto

So anybody who knows me fairly well knows I am bonkers over the grain quinoa. Quinoa pronounced KEEN-WAH, is a South American grain, used a lot in Chile. It's a nutritional powerhouse. It is gluten free, low glycemic, which means it won't send your blood sugar level through the roof, an excellent source of protein and calcium, while also being very versatile. You can use it like a porridge for breakfast or use it like rice for dinner.

Last night I attended my home fellowship group. It's a bit of a potluck, so everyone brings a little something. I try to change things up when I go as not to get boring and bring the same old thing every time. Coming up with new recipes last minute can be challenging sometimes, and other times it can come right to you. Initially I was leaning towards bringing polenta, but last minute I decided I wanted something else.

It occurred to me that I have all of this fabulous basil in my garden. So a light bulb went off to make some pesto. I didn't have a bunch of brown rice noodles left though so I was thinking what else can I put the pesto on that would be yum. I looked down and thought, oh what about quinoa? I keep it in a large mason jar on the floor of my pantry. I'm always trying to think of new ways that I can serve this wonderful grain.

So I whipped up some pesto in the food processor while cooking some quinoa on the stove. Can not express how my food processor has changed my life enough, oh how I am so thankful for it! I diced some tomatoes to put in there for extra flavor and pretty red color. I just mixed it all up in a bowl. To top it off I made some goat cheese available in case anyone wanted some with it. I was very pleased to get shining reviews, and I will serve it again. A girlfriend there said it would go great with some chicken, so meat eaters, there ya go!

When you cook quinoa you want to rinse it first. Quinoa, like some other grains, has a component called saponins. Saponins are chemical compounds found in many plant species that can cause digestion and intestinal issues, like an upset stomach or diarrhea (I know this a food post, and that's gross, but thought you might want to know). I have to confess, as Miss Health Nut herself, I don't always rinse my quinoa, but I am going to get better about it. I've never had issues, but I'd rather not start. I personally buy my quinoa from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, and I hear there distributor pre-rinses the quinoa, so that could be why I'm okay. Thought I'd inform you anyway.

Here is my pesto recipe:

1 Cup of fresh basil
1 Cup of fresh baby spinach
3-4 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil (more if needed)
1/2 Cup soaked and rinsed raw walnuts (pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, but they cost too much)
3 Large cloves of garlic
Sea salt to taste

Above you probably noticed that I said soaked and rinsed walnuts. Yes, ideally you want to soak any nut that you use for a couple of reasons. First of all is the health factor. Now you get to learn some more things that you didn't want to know, yay! Many plants, including walnuts, contain something called tannins. Tannins are organic chemical compounds that cause a lot of the plant foods we eat to have a slightly bitter taste.

A large intake of tannins may cause bowel irritation, kidney irritation, liver damage, irritation of the stomach and gastrointestinal pain. In extreme cases cancer can occur. So I say cut down on the tannins if you can. Don't be scared about it, or get weird. If that was the case you'd never eat again because so many of our foods have tannins. Soaking and rinsing releases many of the tannins. Just take precautions, soak and rinse your food well when you can.

Almost forgot, the second reason to soak them is it softens them up, and makes for smoother consistencies. A third reason is it increases nutritional value by bringing out more enzymes in the food, which aides in digestion. It's ideal to soak nuts in the fridge, in a glass container, with a lid. Soaking times vary depending on the nut type. Walnuts, since we're using them in this recipe, can be soaked in as short of an amount of time as 10-20 minutes. Harder nuts like almonds do better being soaked over night.

Just adjust the recipe to your taste, and to how much you need. What I am finding is you can use almost any nut and green to make pesto. These are just my preferred choices. I saw a recipe for asparagus pesto, and will try that one next. I like pesto because it is healthy, delicious, easy, and fast.

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