Friday, April 5, 2013

Planting and Growing Quinoa

Quinoa is a small, hearty and delicious grain similar to millet. Though native to the Andes Mountains, its resilient nature allows it to grow in certain parts of the U.S. as well. Here are few tips from Carla Emery on growing, harvesting, and cooking quinoa

Climate: Colorado and New Mexico are good places to grow quinoa. It thrives in the 6,000-7,000-foot zone in the central Rocky Mountain area, in northern California and northward near the Pacific Ocean, and in the interior Northwest as well. Extremely hot weather actually holds back the seed setting process of this crop. According to Steve Solomon, "Its seeds sprout in chilly soil, and its frost-hardy seedlings may tolerate night temperatures in the low 20s."

Planting: Sow in spring in fertile soil as soon as the soil is warm (April or May). Steve Solomon again: "Quinoa must be sown early while there remains adequate soil moisture... early sowing - leading to the earliest possible harvest when weather is most likely to be dry - is essential... One organic farmer in the dry highlands of eastern Washington's Cascade foothills grows quinoa like wheat, because when crowded and under competition, the plants don't branch, but instead concentrate the harvest into a single seed head that can be harvested with a combine like wheat. I think the gardener will do better planting in rows about four feet apart, the seed sprinkled thinly in the row and gradually thinned to about eight inches in the row... Far less than an ounce of seed will sow 100 row feet, yielding 25 to 50 pounds of seed." 

Keep the seedbed damp until it has germinated. You can eat the young greens you get from thinning the plants; they're nutritious and tasty. Quinoa will grow about 4 feet high. Steve Solomon wrote, "Keep quinoa well-weeded to allocate all soil moisture to the crop. With only a little fertilizer, quinoa grows fast to a magnificent six or seven feet tall, with numerous bushy side shoots."

Harvesting and Using Quinoa

Harvesting: About mid-summer, it grows a sizable seed head heavy with tiny seeds. Harvest when dead ripe. You can thresh out the grain directly from the field, but threshing will be easier if you harvest and then dry the plants indoors a while more before the flailing. Steve Solomon: "The main hazard is rain. Should the drying seed be moistened, it will sprout right in the head; so if rain threatens once the seed is drying, the plants should be cut, bundled, and hung to finish under cover...When the heads are dry, thresh the seed by walking on the stalks, spread on a tarp. Clean by pouring the seed back and forth between two buckets in a mild breeze."

Of Quinoa and Saponin: Steve Solomon: "The seed coat contains a bitter, somewhat poisonous soap or saponin that prevents insect damage and bird predation, but also must be removed before we can eat the grain.  Fortunately, the saponin can, with patience, be soaked out at home; commercially grown quinoa, which is beginning to appear in health-food stores, conveniently has the saponins and seed coat mechanically removed." Wash only as much quinoa as you're going to cook and eat very soon. The saponin coating needs to be on if the grain is to be stored.
  • Steve Solomon's Saponin Soak-Out. "Soak a pint of dry seed overnight in a half-gallon mason jar with a screen lid such as is used to sprout alfalfa, then drain and refill. Continue soaking the seed and rinsing with cold water two to four times a day. Some varieties have harder seed coats containing more saponin than others, and the hardness of your water will regulate the effectiveness of soaking. The foaming saponins may be removed in 36 hours at best; when the water stops foaming when rinsed, the seed is ready for cooking. If 72 hours of rinsing and soaking pass with no end to the foaming, bring the seed to a boil for only a moment, pour off the hot soapy water, cover again, boil rapidly again for only a moment, and pour off the water a second time. Now the seed is ready to cook."
  • Other Saponin Wash-Out Systems. Blend about 1⁄2 cup of quinoa with cold water at lowest speed. Keep pouring off the foaming water and adding fresh water. Repeat until the blending doesn't release any more foam. Another system is to make yourself a quinoa-washing bag out of a loose-weave cloth like muslin. Then put in the grain, tie the bag shut, and wash in a series of cold-water baths until there's no more foam released. 
Cooking Quinoa: Steve Solomon: "Add enough water to just about cover the soaked grain; simmer for 20 minutes or so. The cereal is good any time of day. Nutritionally it is oil-rich, and leaves you feeling satisfyingly full for a long time, much like oats." Quinoa grain has a delicate flavor and twice the protein of rice. Substitute in any rice recipes. Quinoa will expand to four times the original bulk in the cooking, so 1 cup of the uncooked grain will give you 4 cups to serve.

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