When we drove through the Cusco countryside it was a lush backdrop for the intriguing Peruvian lifestyles.
The people were gracious, gregarious and gorgeous.
The children were as inquisitive about us as we were about them.
There were many opportunities to explore, and new friends to make.
Sharing a meal with one of the locals was entertaining, to say the least. Later in the trip, I encountered “llama drama” when one spit in my face… not so entertaining!
There are many strangely fascinating practices and customs in Peru. In one home, skulls of relatives are given a prominent place of rest, gracefully displayed next to the soft drinks. I think they need something harder to drink to deal with this décor.
“Waste not, want not” or so the saying goes.
- The Peruvians excel at this when it comes to food. They are as resourceful as they are creative in their diverse cuisine.
There was always some local specialty to be found in the markets, on the farm, and on the streets. Did I mention hats are standard fashion?
The three traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, and beans. We were privileged to meet a potato farmer and his family that were proud of their crop.
We watched farmers in action in a land relatively untouched by time.
My dad is a corn farmer, and even he was surprised by the height of corn in Peru. Corn is a staple of the Peruvian diet with its history dating back to1200 B.C. Ancient farmers achieved a degree of sophistication in the selection and creation of new varieties, which then adapted to various conditions. Could this be the first genetically modified corn?
The tall corn produces very large kernels! My parents sample some of the many varieties.
Peru is graced with a plentiful bounty of food sources and diversity including 2,000 species of fish, 2,000 varieties of potatoes, 35 varieties of corn, 650 species of fruit. Ancient Inca civilizations grew nutritionally rich plants that are now being “rediscovered” by contemporary Peruvians. One such plant bursting with lots of good stuff is quinoa. Today’s recipe is based on this “gold of the Incas”.
￼Facts about quinoa:
- Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach, swiss chard, and beets.
- Peru is one of the world’s top producers of quinoa.
- Quinoa is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids – a good choice for vegans concerned about adequate protein.
- Because it is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus, this “grain” may be especially valuable for people with migraine headaches, diabetes & atherosclerosis.
Today’s Featured Recipe: Quinoa Salad with Corn & Fresh Herbs
Get creative with this quinoa salad. It is a great base for a variety of different herbs and vegetables. Add 1/2 cup pine nuts for an extra crunch. I choose red quinoa because of the vibrant color, white tastes the same. Washing or roasting quinoa before you cook it essential to eliminate the bitter taste. * The adventurous cook would add 1 finely diced jalapeno.
Quinoa Salad with Corn & Fresh Herbs
Makes 4 servings
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 ½ teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or lime)
- 1/8 cup extra virgin cold press olive oil
- 1 ½ teaspoon agave (or honey) optional
- 1 cup quinoa (red or white)
- 2 scallions, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro (can add fresh herb of your choice)
- 6 oz. feta cheese, cut into cubes (or goat cheese)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 small cucumber, chopped
- Defrost corn, set aside.
- Whisk together lemon zest and juice, oil, honey, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined.
- Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a large sieve each time.
- Place quinoa it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes to dry roast. This creates a nuttier flavor. Take off heat when quinoa starts to pop.
- Transfer quinoa to a small pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Move quinoa to a large bowl and let it cool.
- Add dressing to quinoa and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in corn, scallions, cilantro, bell pepper, feta, and cucumbers. Mix until well coated.
- Refrigerate at least one hour.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas from WH Foods:
- Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions, and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
- Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
- Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
Hope you enjoyed your armchair journey to Peru. If quinoa is currently not in your repertoire, I hope that you will consider adding this power packed food to your mix. Please let me know your favorite way to cook it.
…and then, she paused for thought.