Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ode to Quinoa

quinoa seeds

If you came from One Stop Poetry for the One Shot Wednesday poem, it's at the end. (Of course you're welcome to read the preamble, I hope you will, since it builds to the ode.) 

I really don't understand how one civilization knows something important for 6,000 years, and I just heard about it a few months ago. Now, if I'm browsing online for recipes (while my beautiful cookbooks lie, unopened in the cupboard), especially healthy ones, it's hard to miss it.

These are quinoa seeds. Quinoa isn't a grain, it's not in the grass family. It's a leafy vegetable, related to spinach, kale and beets, of the Chenopodium species. Quinoa was the second most important food source for the Incans, after the potato, but more important than maize. It's Inca's gold, sacred, the mother grain. They could grow it in the Andes at 13,000 feet (but not maize).

This excellent 1999 article on the history and exciting prospects of quinoa becoming a sustainable major source of food for the world, explains:

By the beginning of this century, quinoa had lost its status as the Mother Grain. Foreign crops, such as barley, had been introduced and surpassed quinoa in importance. Further decline occurred in Peru in the 1940s when the government began to import large amounts of wheat. Between 1941 and 1974, quinoa cultivation plummeted from 111,000 acres to 32,000 acres. Compounded with the growing acculturation of indigenous populations and the stigma of indigenous identification attached to its consumption, quinoa lost its grandeur and became just another subsistence crop for poorer rural families.

Thankfully, with the exploding demand for quinoa from people like me way up here in Michigan, exports from countries like Bolivia are increasing, and quinoa is also being eaten by the masses in the Andes again.

You can see Thomas Jefferson's handsome profile there on the nickel, appropriately resting his head on pillows of quinoa seeds. Among the many geniuses of Thomas Jefferson, one was a passion for experimenting with fruits and vegetables, hundreds of varieties in his 1,000-foot garden at Monticello. He ate mostly vegetables and considered meat a "condiment." (Read here about his favorite vegetables.) I don't know if he knew of, tasted, or experimented with quinoa, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. An interesting bit of history is how Jefferson smuggled rice from Italy in his pockets, risking punishment by death, to develop a new breed mixed with Carolina rice, so that the French would import it, which you can read here.

I visited Monticello at age 13 with my parents and Virginian aunt and uncles;
the top sketch is Jefferson's first of the house he designed;
his inventions, architecture and design sense really captured
my aesthetic imagination. 

 Mulberry Row, Vegetable Garden Terrace, & South Orchard
(Photos borrowed from

I was intimidated by what I didn't know about quinoa, not the least of which was pronouncing it (KEEN-WAH). At last, after my niece potlucked a quinoa dish at the family reunion, we cooked some for a perfect summer Sunday meal. Here is the simplest method for cooking quinoa that I've found. Be sure to rinse it before cooking, although apparently most quinoa at the market now has been rinsed already to remove the bitter outer coating called saponin.

Do you want to know why you might want to eat it? It's delicious - mild and nutty, and the texture is nice, like rice. It's super easy to cook in 15 minutes (don't overcook it). You can even pop it like popcorn apparently. It's high in protein (a half cup serving has 11 grams!) and contains all the amino acids to make it a complete protein to boot. It's gluten-free. It has fighto-chemicals that phyt against cancer and prevent cholestrol from clogging your arteries. It's loaded with potassium, magnesium and manganese. I mean seriously, was this secret buried in stone at Macchu Picchu? Sometimes I really think we "civilized" peoples have unlearned almost every useful bit of wisdom readily available to mankind.

Perfect Summer Sunday Lunch
Black Bean & Tomato Quinoa
Pesto & Crostini
Fried Green Tomatoes

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
(we added crushed garlic, cucumbers, chopped spinach,
zucchini, and green peppers to this recipe)

I love the little curlies.

Pesto and Crostini
I use the pesto recipe from The Silver Spoon.
(I do pull The Silver Spoon down off the shelf, often.)

Blend in a food processor:
25 fresh basil leaves
scant 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/3 cup romano cheese, freshly grated
& I add 1-2 cloves crushed garlic

Fried Green Tomatoes
(Don's specialty)

The garlic and basil flavor-bursting pesto
with the milder quinoa and fried green tomatoes
made a nice balancing act.

Accompany with iced tea, lemonade or Pinot Grigio.

Bon appetit!

It was Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's birthday Monday, July 12 (1904, d. September 23, 1973). He was famous for his odes to simple ordinary things, like an artichoke, socks, maize, a lemon. Neruda's sensuality and mindfulness of the universe in every small thing is inimitable, but the inspiration he keeps shining from Chile is a prompt for this Ode to Quinoa anyway. I think quinoa is a good candidate for a Nerudian ode, since it was spurned by Spanish conquistadors as merely food for Indians.

Ode to Quinoa

My fingertips
roll the beads,
miracles of asymmetry,
tiny as toad eyes,
hard as coriander,
the color of my skin.

A bed of it
would be like thick
sand, my knees
and elbows,
hips, my toes
would not be able
to find the bottom.
airy mattress.

An ocean
or a cup,
softened in a pan,
a spoonful
of autumn sun,
a pillow of
downy earth.
Useless teeth,
a tongue, a mouth,
the wet pads
of my cheeks
massage it into life,
down through the funnel
of my craving,
and into the well
of my stomach’s
open empty hand.

~ Ruth M.
Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

My ode is part of One Stop Poetry's One Shot Wednesday poetry gathering, where all poets are welcome to share, and readers will find delights. Leslie (Moondustwriter) is this week's host.


Brian Miller said...

to the well of my stomachs open hand....nice. wonderful ode and great history lesson. i once did a scale pen & ink of monticello...years ago...enjoyed the smooth feel of your words in the ode.

Silliyak said...

Check out gluten free recipe sites and you will find lots of recipes using quinoa.
and being at the top of my list.

Anonymous said...

Glad to meet a Michigander. Love how you define quinoa in the poem as asymmetrical miracles and then present it poetically on a personal level relating it to many wonders of earth. I am incredibly hungry now. lol cheers

Cait O'Connor said...

I love your poem

anthonynorth said...

A recipe of a poem, that one. Nicely done.

Mory said...

"My fingertips
roll the beads,
miracles of asymmetry,
tiny as toad eyes,
hard as coriander,
the color of my skin."

such beautiful lines-- my favorite. indeed this poem deserves it title of ode.

fantastic poem.

Pat said...

Thanks for the pronunciation. Now I won't sound like an idiot saying "queen-ya". Although I don't know if I can retain that knowledge "keen-wah". I'll have to try this.

Thanks for the interesting post. Oh, and I LOVE home made pesto.

Funny, you were the second person to talk about fried green tomatoes today!

Kira Stann said...

A beautiful poem! I could just picture it all.

ellen abbott said...

Quinoa is one of our staples. thanks so much for the recipes. Have you ever tried amaranth? It's really good too.

Monkey Man said...

I can see feel and taste the Quinoa through your words.

willow said...

Delicious. The photos and your words. My 5th great-grandfather had a close and enduring friendship with Thomas Jefferson. Really interesting about the quinoa connection.

The Bug said...

Love the poem! You've inspired me to pull an old poem out of my arsenal - Ode to a Grapefruit. It's a tongue in cheek ode - not as nice as yours.

Dr. M & I just finished the last of our quinoa a few weeks ago. I really like it - but, like grits, it can be hard to clean up. All those tiny beads everywhere. Or am I the only one who gets my food all over the kitchen when I cook?

Emmanuel Ibok said...

This was insightful...I enjoyed the information as well as the ode...I'm glad people like you are pushing the exports back up to where this highly nutritious grains should be.

ds said...

Holy synchronicity! Just last week I cooked quinoa for the first time (made a little salad of it, not so elegant as yours) & have been dipping into Mr. Neruda's poetry. Thank you thank you for the history of this most important grain/protein source, the yummy food and the extra-yummy poem.
Monticello? Someday, perhaps.
My stomach's open empty hand is well filled, now.

dutchbaby said...

My very first school report in America was about Thomas Jefferson. I've been fascinated with him ever since. I was quite moved when I finally had a chance to visit Monticello about five years ago. The original sketch is intriguing. I'm so glad he changed the second story with the cupola - such a dramatic difference.

Now on to quinoa. I mostly enjoy it as tabouleh but I like the idea of adding black beans. Can't wait to try it. The rest of this summer menu looks fantastic too! I would like mine with lemonade, please.

Your poem is fantabulous and delicious. I can't imagine being able to write any poetry.

TALON said...

I'll take tea, thank you! :)

Absolutely lovely Ode! It just flowed beautifully right from beginning to end. I'm definitely going to make that pesto - it sounds delicious! Thank you for posting it.

Your poem got my tummy rumbling. I think I need to rustle up a bedtime snack now.

Bella Rum said...

Lovely poem and wonderful history. Your entire meal looks delicious. We haven't had quinoa in quite a while. My husband has mentioned it several times recently. We'll have to try your recipe. Thanks for all the information.

Pete Marshall said...

i had never even heard of it..such is my ignorance..but now it is ingrained forever through such a wonderful poem. loved the opening stanza..cheers Pete

Ruth said...

Brian, I'll bet your pen and ink is nice - such a photogenic and art-worthy place. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Very nice, Sillyak, thank you.

Ruth said...

Dustus, then I assume from your "poetic license" on your sidebar that you are a Michiganian too? Pleasure to meet you. Hope you got something to eat. :)

Ruth said...

Why thank you, Cait.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Mr. North. You have a unique blog. Love that sheet short fiction.

Ruth said...

Mory, thank you so much, and welcome to sync. I like your place very much, you are full of creative explosions, and that is so great. Keep up the very nice work.

Ruth said...

Pat, it is very hard for us to let tomatoes ripen, since we like them fried green so much. But I think Don planted so many this year that we will have WAY too many red ones very soon . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Kira.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I have not tried amaranth, though I've been seeing it a lot too.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Monkey Man.

Ruth said...

Willow, that's very cool about your 5th great grandfather and Jefferson. And well, about a connection with Jefferson and quinoa, who knows if there is one?

Ruth said...

Dana, well I like your grapefruit ode very much, I'm glad my ode prompted you to get yours out. All kinds of ode promptings!

Messy kitchen? Um, when my husband has been in there. Yes. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you for your nice visit, Emmanuel.

Ruth said...

Dear DS, quinoa and Neruda, together, you and me, of course!

Ruth said...

Hello there, dear Dutchbaby, I was pretty sure you had already tried quinoa, you foodie you.

Yes, that cupola. I would love to go back to Monticello as an adult. I didn't see the gardens when we were there when I was 13, but I do remember a very impressive catalpa tree.

Ruth said...

Hi, and welcome, TALON. Sorry about the tummy hunger. I'm hungry now, and the pesto and quinoa are both gone. :(

Ruth said...

Bella, thank you. I got pretty excited when I understood how versatile quinoa is. I think we'll be eating a lot of it this summer. We can cook it in our rice cooker (which doesn't heat up the kitchen so much), but we haven't tried that yet. I think you just set it for white rice. I'm so glad it's much healthier than white rice though.

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Pete!

Susan said...

Oh my goodness! Such a wealth of goodies in this post! That poem is simply exquisite and the photos are sublime. They even make me want to try quinoa again. I wasn't too fond of it the first time, but I will try your's so colorful. That looks like a fabulous recipe for pesto...I have an abundance of basil in my garden right now, so I know what we will be having this weekend. Don's FGT look out of this world! My mouth started watering as soon as I saw the picture....mmmmm.

I loved Monticello. We visited there when the children were young. We were doing a historical vacation in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. I love Thomas Jefferson. I've been watching 'John Adams' and wondering when Tom Hanks will produce a mini-series about Jefferson. It would be a very rich piece, for sure.

Loved this post, Ruthie.

George said...

Wow, Ruth. You have rocked my culinary world! The history of quinoa was fantastic, especially with the photos of Monticello, which is near where I live, but the photos of the dishes made with quinoa took my breath away and brought on a writhing state of hunger. Loved the poem also. The whole posting was an amazing and entertaining piece of writing. Thanks for getting my morning started on a wonderful note.

Loring said...

An actual quinoa poem! I had a mental block against quinoa for many years, because in my senior year of college, I lived largely off a 25-lb bag of millet and nothing else, and quinoa seemed too close to millet in texture. Then, some time in the mid-90s I lost my weirdo mental block and decided quinoa was great. Heck, I'll even eat millet now - within reason.

Kate said...

Yum! We've tried quinoa, and now I'll try your recipes. They sound scrumptious. My only experience was tabbouleh and I'm not that fond of mint.
Very nice poem, too. I love 'a spoonful of autumn sun'. Thanks, Ruth.

Claudia said...

...a spoonful
of autumn sun,
a pillow of
downy earth... wow - so poetic - never thought about food like that - very nice!

caroldiane said...

I am so glad that quinoa is finding its proper place - this may be the food that saves us in the next few years!

Anonymous said...

this made me so HUNGRY!!!

and the pictures...

my stomach is not an "open empty hand" anymore

it turned into arms.

Anonymous said...

delicious and informative and a very well written ode to this tiny gem!

Anonymous said...

Wow...some amazing wordplay there!!!
And like Pete, I too hadn't heard of Quinoa before :( I am aware of the fact that I suck at general knowledge!! I am trying to improve...
And with this poem, I sure did my bit for the day! :)

Vagabonde said...

What a lovely poem. I remember years ago when I was on a bean and grain diet kick I tried hard to find quinoa around here but did not find any, then I forgot about it. I’ll look for it again as I think there are a lot more interesting items available now in markets.

Fireblossom said...

Forgive me for not returning your kind comments sooner. I have been having comp issues!

You choose words beautifully. Sometimes I will read a poem almost regardless of the meanings of the words, just listening to the sound of them, their shapes, if you will. Tennyson is lovely for this, as is Longfellow. You have this knack.

But then I go back, of course, and read the poem properly. Your theme is simple, of course, but you've made it full and satisfying. Brava!

And...I had to come see a fellow Michiganian. (I refuse to say Michigander.) :-)

Vagabonde said...

I forgot to mention the other grain which is, like quinoa, super good for you, in case you are not familiar with it. It is called Tef or Teff. I learnt about it when our Ethiopian trainees were here in the 80s. It is very nutritious. It is the tiniest grain in the world I think and has a very old history too.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Neighbor and fellow cook and poet! I particularly appreciate this since I use quinoa for lots of things. Can't do wheat and gluten. Love Neruda and love the Silver Spoon Cookbook. Wonderful poem! Well done. The whole post is fun . . .

Oh, and I'll take a cup of hot Teeccino! Thanks . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Susie dear. Now I want to know why you didn't like quinoa. We shall talk.

This pesto is so good I could just sit and eat it out of the bowl, forget about crostini. Well, forget about a spoon.

No wonder Jaye is a historian who has delved into his ancestry. You got him to appreciate it early on. I was quite inspired by that trip to Monticello, and I had recently gone to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, and fell in love with the historical interiors there too. At Jefferson's place, I especially loved his study, with the double pen for making two copies of a document, his 7 day clock, and his swivel chair.

Ruth said...

George, abundant thanks for your very kind and generous comment. I quite enjoyed finding out about quinoa myself, and the ode just sort of flowed out of that experience, just a little stream. It makes me so happy you enjoyed it.

Ruth said...

My dear Loring, you never cease to amaze me. Of course you knew about quinoa in college, mais bien sur! I have never tried millet, but the way you describe your experience, pardon me if I don't, try it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Kate. It's interesting you said that about mint. Don wanted to add it, from his garden, but I resisted. There are some things I like mint in, like Turkish cacık, but in other recipes, I don't care for its dominance.

Ruth said...

Thank you, and welcome, Claudia. You have a beautiful blog. As for thinking of food like that, when you get to know me, you know that while some people eat to live, I live to eat.

Linda said...

This, I said, would be the summer I tried quinoa. And of course I haven't got round to it yet. Your recipes have inspired me. So summery.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, I found such hope in it for that!

Ruth said...

Oh, so sorry, Doni, I hope you have been well fed by now! Thank you for your kind and hungry visit.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, D.S.. I loved your poem to madness.

Ruth said...

Hello, welcome and thank you, Kavita, for leaving the blossom of your comment, and for taking something new with you. :)

joanny said...

Wonderful story and recipes, I do eat quinoa it is a joy to eat.


came by one stop poetry.

Ruth said...

Hello, dear Vagabonde. Don just picked up some red quinoa, which I've heard tastes even better. I had not heard of Tef/Teff. I wonder if it is served at the Ethiopian restaurant in Ann Arbor.

I was very moved by your Bastille Day post. Just lovely, one of my favorites of yours.

Ruth said...

Welcome, Fireblossom, and thank you, fellow Michiganian, for your thoughtful and generous comment. I feel that way too, when I read. The same with films. If the film is well written and made, it doesn't matter what the theme or genre is. I feel honored by your sentiment.

Ruth said...

Thank you and welcome, MusingbyMoonlight. I love your mind chatter poem, and as I say, I might read it as a bed time meditation.

Thank you for introducing me to teeccino.

Ruth said...

That's so great, Linda, I hope you do try and enjoy it.

What a great garden place you have in Scotland!

Ruth said...

Hello and welcome, Joanny, it's nice to find out how many of you already eat quinoa.

Jessie said...

this was all very interesting. the receipes look delish, i will have to try them soon. very well said and put together, impressive indeed.


Deslilas said...

I've just asked my wife some hours ago to buy some quinoa this morning and it will be our dinner meal !
Some years ago, it was difficult to find it, we had to go to specialized shops; Nowadays, we find it in evry supermarket : white or red, alone or mixed with some cereals.
We'll try some of your receipes.

Deslilas said...

read every and not Evry which is a town around Paris !

Jingle said...

yummy dishes,
what a delight to read and taste virtually.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Jessie, and welcome to my place. Yours is just gorgeous.

Ruth said...

Ha, Daniel, not Evry. :) OK. Don bought red quinoa last night, so maybe we'll try that this weekend. It's great to hear that it is available in so many places now. It really makes me wonder how rice ever made it so big. Now, white rice is so unhealthy, I hope people will switch over, with diabetes so rampant.

Ruth said...

Jingle, thank you, and I have just gone mad with hunger after seeing and reading your tomatoes!

Jeanie said...

First, I don't know much about quinoa -- apart from the fact that Giada diLaurentiis mentions it periodically. Or Ina Garten. One of them! So, it's good to not only get some background but also some recipes. Thanks!

And pesto! I can home from vacation and my basil was so tall I had to make pesto immediately. Oh, so good! I may have another batch to do tonight just to freeze, though it's hard to make it last that long, and really, is it ever as good?

A funny word: dustredl. This was my verification word for my last comment on your blog. I like that one!

RD said...

I love quinoa. As a vegetarian it's almost a staple as a source of protein. I have to get sneaky with how I use it in recipes because my girls aren't especially fond of it. It's a great breakfast cereal too--honey and fruit and nuts mixed in. Glad you discovered it! Oh, my goodness, your meal looks mouthwatering-- Beautiful!

VioletSky said...

iced tea, lemonade or Pinot Grigio - hahahahaha!
I discovered quinoa a few years ago when I went on a gluten free diet; hated it at the time. Now I love it. There is a vegetarian restaurant near me that makes a wicked quinoa salad and I go there often just for that.

Oliag said...

You are certainly right Ruth....this would be a perfect summer my case with the pinot grigio....

I blogged about quinoa about a year ago because I love it so much too...I discovered it when my son-in-law was diagnosed with celiac disease...and therefore now gluten free. I love those little curls too:) Now I have an ode that I can think of as I cook it...will be saving this one....

Terresa said...

Quinoa, I've never been lucky enough (or blessed?) to prepare it to a palatable state, but my family has still survived. Love pronouncing it, though, and your poem, an ode to it, is a delight.

On a similar note, when I lived in Uruguay (94-95), I was tied to polenta. Many people were.

Polenta was a paupers meal, prepared by hands with dirt floors and one lightbulb moved from room to room. I saw it every day I lived there.

We ate polenta warm, in chipped bowls, tarnished spoons, with fizzy Agua Salus, and warm tuco.

Imagine my interest when I discovered the trendy Trader Joe's (gourmet eco-friendly food store, a sister in ways, to Whole Foods) started selling polenta in plastic tubes, prepared who knows where, and incredibly urban-hip.

My friends delighted in their new found food; I smiled, as I imagine the Uruguayans would, my dear friends, who live in dirt houses and eat it to survive.

Ginnie said...

Nicholas shares that July 12th birthday, Ruth. :) Now you have me wondering if unbenownst to me I have ever eaten this Quinoa? It definitely sounds like a winner. I love that we're learning to go back to our roots to find those oldies but goodies that need to be re-introduced to our way of life!

RoSe said...

Hi Ruth, catching up on your lovely posts and this one was a delight to read, especially the poem.
Drooling over those fried green tomatoes and for sure going to try your quinoa salad recipe. Have made quinoa many times but never as a salad. Thanks for your post on my blog, I will catch up, pick back up ...hopefully soon with an update.

Anonymous said...

Wow-- the most intense response to a grain I've ever read! Nicely written!

The Solitary Walker said...

What a great post! Like the poem. It does remind me of Neruda.

The Solitary Walker said...

What a great post! Like the poem. It does remind me of Neruda.