a surprisingly complicated ethical question – to eat quinoa or not?
I’ve had a box of organic quinoa on my pantry shelf for a while now which I’ve been avoiding for a whole number of reasons.
First I’ve heard that the high price of quinoa being driven by demand from “yuppy vegans” in the affluent first world was making the ancient grain-like seed unaffordable for the people who live in Peru and Bolivia where the crop has traditionally been grown and is a dietary staple. If you want to read more about this – check out the recent article in the Guardian: Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?
Canada’s Globe and Mail has written articles both supporting and refuting the negative impact of the high crop price for the economies where quinoa is grown. The latest article, Killer quinoa? pointed out that high crop prices have a net benefit for the producing nation. This makes sense to me. I’m guessing if we all stopped eating quinoa the price would fall and then there’d be a problem with the impact of the falling crop value.
However, I also doubt the net benefit of higher prices trickles down very quickly to the agricultural workers even if the economy as a whole benefits.
Eating quinoa it turns out, is a complicated ethical quagmire.
Ethics and economics aside, I have a theory that quinoa gives me a sore stomach and I’ve heard others say the same thing. Still, I actually like the taste, and I like the idea that it’s a very high protein, gluten-free, and has a stack of nutritional benefits. And since I had bought the box of quinoa on my pantry shelf prior to finding out about my ethical faux-pas, I decided to do a little research about why I was getting a sore stomach from eating it. It seems that a naturally occurring, pesticide-like, soapy residue called saponin may be the cause of my stomach pain.
The trick apparently, is to wash the quinoa thoroughly in a fine sieve to remove all the residue. Once you think the water is running clear and the quinoa is completely rinsed – keep rinsing. Swirl the quinoa vigorously Only when you can’t stand wasting another drop of water should you stop rinsing. Then and only then will you have removed enough of the saponin to produce quinoa that is easier on the stomach.
If you can’t bear the ethical dilemma or the stomach ache or the wasted water used to rinse the quinoa – adjust the recipe and use brown rice – which requires a slightly longer cooking time. In the meantime – this is a really delicious, vegan quinoa casserole.
You can eat this hot or cold – and if you serve it cold – go ahead and call it a quinoa salad.
Quinoa with broccoli, mushrooms and toasted almonds
1/4 cup natural slivered almonds
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and then rinsed again
1 1/2 cups vegetarian stock
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
225 grams or 8 oz of fresh mushrooms
2 crowns of broccoli, chopped and cooked
Toast the almonds by either cooking on a well-greased baking sheet at 350 degrees F for about 8 minutes (check them before – they burn quickly) or by sautéing on medium in a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, sauté the red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil for a minute or two and then add the garlic. Continue cooking for another minute or so, then add the well-rinsed quinoa, stock, and red pepper flakes. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or so – or until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.
Meanwhile, lightly cook the broccoli (microwave or steam) and saute the mushrooms in 1-2 tbsp olive oil until well-browned.
When the quinoa is cooked, add the broccoli and mushrooms – toss and move to a casserole dish. Top with toasted slivered almonds. Serve hot, cold or room temperature.