Back in my vegetarian days I often turned to quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) as an important part of my diet. Quinoa is the seed of the goosefoot plant which was prized by the ancient Incas. It is a complete protein and a good source of the amino acids. Quinoa is also gluten free.
Quinoa isn’t just for vegetarians or people who can’t have gluten; it is a healthy and satisfying alternative to meat that everyone can enjoy – even the meat eaters among you. It makes an excellent protein for backpackers because you can cook it ahead of time, dehydrate it and rehydrate it on the trail. My favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill (Organic) and Indian Harvest. You can find quinoa in the organic foods or vegetarian sections of larger grocery stores or at health food stores.
This food is also extremely versatile. Red or the more traditional white quinoa is a great substitute for small pasta such as orzo, rice or couscous. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal in place of oatmeal or cream of wheat. Use whole, cooked quinoa in baked goods such as bread or muffins and use it uncooked to add crunch to bars. Quinoa flour can be used to replace some of the all-purpose flour in many recipes. Red quinoa is a little more flavorful than the white variety. It has a bit of a firmer texture and nutty earthiness. White quinoa is milder. Both varieties can be toasted to enhance their flavor. Another interesting use for quinoa is in salads or in place of bulgur wheat in tabouleh. Quinoa flakes are like oatmeal and can be used as a quick hot cereal or in place of oatmeal in your apple crisp.
“So, how do I cook it?” you ask.
If the package of the quinoa doesn’t specifically state that it is pre-rinsed your first step will be to rinse the seeds. This is important because the seeds have a naturally occurring coating of saponin, which tastes bitter. The saponin residue is easily removed by rinsing. Place the seeds in a sieve under running water for about 3 minutes or until the water runs clear. Let the quinoa drain after rinsing. Toast the quinoa in a dry frying pan, preferably non-stick, over medium heat until the seeds start to jump or pop in the pan. Let the toasted quinoa cool and then place it in a mason jar for storage until you are ready to make your meal. You don’t have to toast the quinoa, though I prefer to do so because I find that the process enhances the flavor.
While you can cook quinoa plain and dehydrate it before your trip, I tend to only do it this way for salads or when using whole quinoa as a hot cereal. I’d rather cook the meal at home and then dehydrate the entire dish. Then I merely have to rehydrate and reheat the meal at camp.
The following recipes are some of our camp favorites.
from A Fork in the Trail
Makes 10 servings
These bars have a nice crunch from the quinoa and a tropical twist with the combination of orange and coconut.
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup quinoa
2 egg whites
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ or oat bran
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 9 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper so that the paper goes up the sides of the pan as well. Melt the butter and spread it on the parchment paper. Rinse the quinoa in a fine strainer under cold water for at least 3 minutes. In a nonstick frying pan toast the quinoa, stirring frequently. As soon as some of the seeds start to pop remove the quinoa from the pan and set it aside to cool.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl. Melt the butter and add it to the egg whites. Mix in the honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and orange extracts. Add the rolled oats, wheat germ, and the toasted quinoa. Stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into the pan and spread it into the corners. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the center is set and the edges are browned. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. When slab is cool, turn pan upside down and dump bars onto a large cutting board. With a sharp knife cut the slab into 10 bars. Individually wrap the bars in waxed paper and put them all together in a ziplock freezer bag. Store the bars in the freezer, for up to three months, until you’re ready to use them.
To make the parchment paper easier to manage, place a little butter in the bottom of your pan and then place the parchment paper in the pan. The butter underneath will hold the paper in place, making it easier for you to butter the top of the paper.
Quinoa and Spinach Soup
from my book:
Makes 4–6 servings
1 small jalapeño pepper, minced
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon cumin
2/3 cup baby red potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup carrot, peeled and diced
5 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
3 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup lime juice
1/8 cup fresh or 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)
Place the quinoa in a fine sieve and rinse for at least 3 minutes to remove the bitter coating. Drain and set aside. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and jalapeño pepper and sauté for a few moments, being careful not to brown the garlic. Add salt, pepper, cumin, potatoes, carrots, and quinoa. Sauté until the quinoa starts to make popping noises. Pour the vegetable stock in the pan and simmer for 12 minutes. Then add the frozen corn and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes more. Add the spinach, lime juice, cilantro, and green onions and cook until the spinach wilts. Crumble the feta and add it to the soup. Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool.
Measure the soup and write this measurement on a sticky note. Spread the stew on lined dehydrator trays and dry for 7 to 12 hours or until no moisture remains. Put the soup and the sticky note in a ziplock freezer bag.
Add enough boiling water to the soup ingredients in a pot to equal the measurement on your sticky note. Be sure to account for and add your dried ingredients to the rehydration container prior to adding the water. You can always add more water if you need to. Let rehydrate for 20 minutes or until fully hydrated. Once the soup has rehydrated, heat it through over a stove and serve. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water.
Even though there is a jalapeño pepper in this soup it is not spicy. If you want to make it hotter, add some of the seeds from the pepper or use a bit more pepper.
Feta cheese is usually packed in brine and therefore salty. If you decide to use it in this recipe you may want to reduce the amount of the salt you add accordingly.
Carrot Cake Quinoa Flakes
from my upcoming book: Another Fork in the Trail
Dehydration Time: 5-7 hours
Makes 2 servings
This hot cereal recipe has the comforting flavor of carrot cake and the gentle flavor of green tea combined with the protein-packed nutrition of quinoa flakes. If you like, you can substitute oats for the quinoa, however, if you lead a gluten-free lifestyle ensure that the oats are packaged in a gluten-free facility. I usually rehydrate the carrots and raisins while I have my first cup of tea.
3 tablespoons carrots, dehydrated measurement
2 teaspoons gunpowder green tea, ground measurement
2/3 cup quinoa flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered soy milk
2 tablespoons sultana raisins
2 teaspoons maple or brown sugar to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon shredded sweetened coconut (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 cups water
Grate a carrot on the fine side of a box grater and dry on lined dehydrator trays for 5 to 7 hours or until dry and leathery. Grind the green tea to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Place the quinoa flakes in a medium ziplock freezer bag with the green tea and soy milk powder. Put the raisins and dried carrots in a ziplock freezer bag and place that bag in with the quinoa flakes. Mix the spices and sugar together and wrap in a small piece of plastic wrap. Then do the same with the nuts, and coconut if you are using them. Put the bundles in the bag with the quinoa flakes.
Remove the bundles from the bag of quinoa flakes and set aside. Add enough boiling water to the carrots and raisins to barely cover them and let rehydrate for 10 to 15 minutes. When the carrots have rehydrated, boil 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water depending on the desired consistency. Add the quinoa flakes, spice and sugar mixture, carrots and the raisins to the pot, cover, and let sit for about 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts and coconut if you are using them. Divide into 2 servings.
I like to grate several carrots when making this recipe. That way I have extra for this, soup and trail salads.
If you don’t have a spice grinder just use an inexpensive coffee grinder and dedicate it to grinding spices.
To save time in the morning, start rehydrating the carrots and raisins the night before using cool water and a leak proof container.