The Quinoa Dish Everyone's Mama Made
The humble Guiso de quinua, as one of my research participants said, is a meal in and of itself. It packs a punch of flavor, gives you plenty of protein, and the potatoes give you healthy carbs, fiber, and a little added protein to sustain you till your next meal. I have been working towards a master's degree for the past four years. As a single, working parent I went at a pace that best suited me and allowed me enough mental space to still be present for my little one. I decided that I needed an extra challenge (because I'm crazy?) so I began my journey of research and writing a thesis about a year ago. My topic? Quinoa. I am most interested in the indigeneity of quinoa, not only as a native food of Peru and South America, but also the ways in which people honor it, perceive it, and preserve it as a food that was once gifted to the people by the stars (see Origen de la quinua on our video page).
Growing up in the U.S. I did not eat quinoa until I was an adult, as it was not part of my family's repertoire in the kitchen. Once I found it, and realized its important role in Peruvian culinary history, I became increasingly interested in understanding other Peruvian's relationship with quinoa survived over time both in and outside of Peru. In my research, when I asked participants about the ways in which they consumed quinoa growing up, there were two main ways in which quinoa was prepared: in a sweet way or a savory way. No matter whether sweet or savory, quinoa was, and still is, often prepared like a porridge or a beverage. The dish that was most mentioned was guiso de quinua. In fact, two of my research participants cooked it for me.
Every culture and nation has a particular blend of herbs and spices that set it apart from others. Peruvian sazon, or flavor, has at its base a variety of spicy peppers -- both fresh and dried -- as well as herbs like huacatay and culantro. This dish includes one of the most used peppers, aji amarillo, and well as the herb huacatay.
Guiso de quinua, or stewed quinoa, is a dish that has ancient roots. Quinoa, like the potato and corn, was a staple grain for Andean people and the Incan Empire. Not only were the seeds used in porridges and to make beverages, but the leaves were cooked alone and eaten, added to soups, the stalks were boiled for medicinal purposes, and even the discarded water used to wash the saponin from the seeds was used as a detergent for hair or clothes (found this out in my own research!).
Today, it is standard to make this dish with milk and cheese but in thinking about how this dish might have been made before colonization, the recipe I share with you here forgoes these two ingredients which also keeps it vegan. This is a deeply satisfying dish that can be eaten on its own, any dark leafy greens could be added as well to round out the dish, and it could also be eaten as a side (my father wanted a pork chop or steak with it! Ha ha!). Buen prochevo, amig@s!
Guiso de quinua -- Serves 4
2 tablespoons oil
4 cups of cooked white quinoa
1 large onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1-2 teaspoons aji amarillo paste (2 tsp or more if you want it spicy!)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon huacatay paste
1/2-1 teaspoon palillo (tumeric), for color
2 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)
2 yellow potatoes, cooked and cubed
2 cups salted potato water (saved from cooking potatoes)
Photo taken by one of my research participants
(he also adds milk and cheese to his version of the dish)
Cook quinoa and set aside. (See past recipes like Sopa de quinua, in the notes, for hints about cooking quinoa.)
Cook potatoes in salted water and set aside. Peel and cube potatoes. Save water.
In a small pot (enough to hold the 4 cups of quinoa, ultimately), heat oil and saute onions until translucent.
Add garlic, aji amarillo and spices and saute until fragrant.
Add huacatay, salt and quinoa and mix well. Lower heat to medium.
Add 1 cup potato water and stir. Keep adding as much water as needed while stirring to encourage a creamy texture.
Once the desired texture is reached (soft porridge but not watery), add potatoes and gently fold in. Adjust salt, if needed.
Optional: Add more palillo, if the dish is still too pale, to a desirable color.
Optional: Add baby spinach at the end and allow to wilt with the heat of the quinoa.
Optional, non-vegan variation: Add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk for a creamier texture.
Optional, non-vegan variation: Add 1 cup of cubed queso fresco.
Note: While this dish can be eaten alone, it is often served with eggs and rice or rice and some type of meat. My preference? Eating it alone!