Expressing Indigeneity on the table: Pastel de quinua
This year (yesterday, in fact!) was the Bicentennial of Peru on July 28th. To honor this special occasion I decided I wanted to share a dish I created with my beloved quinoa. She is my muse after all. When I was doing my thesis research in graduate school I used quinoa as a lens to explore Peruvians' Indigeneity as it is expressed at the dinner table. I call this dish Pastel de quinua and I am so excited to share it with you.
When I began graduate school I had this one question that kept me up at night: Why are Americans so obsessed with quinoa? Didn't that keep you up at night? No? Just me? Ok, sure, maybe I'm a bit of a food nerd but because I had never really grown up eating it, nor had it been mentioned much in my own culinary adventures, I was baffled as to why people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe were importing insane quantities of quinoa and trying to make everything out of it. I mean, I like the taste but in the bigger scheme of things, it's a slightly labor intensive item to cook (you have to wash it so many times!) and it's pretty earthy tasting, an acquired taste for many.
International interest in quinoa didn't just happen out of nowhere. There were many factors that played into its rise to stardom as a superfood. Quinoa's boom began in the 2000s and peaked in the 2010s. The short version of the explanation is three-fold: 1. Peru's culinary boom began around the same time; 2. The country's marketing of its cuisine and the attempt to get recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to deem its culinary heritage as a World Heritage (which it did not receive) created a lot of international buzz, and; 2. the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations deemed 2013 the Year of Quinoa in recognition of Indigenous peoples of the Andes and to market the pseudo-grain as a foodstuff that could potentially help end malnutrition and starvation around the world .
I won't go too deep into the quinoa research I did for my masters thesis but the question that led my research was not only "Why quinoa?" but also "Do Peruvians see quinoa as an expression of their Indigeneity at the dinner table?" Quinoa is not only indigenous to the Andes but it is also most often grown by Indigenous hands, For me, there are few other internationally known Andean foodstuffs that scream Indigenous, save the potato, amaranth, and corn, then la quinua. I had my participants try three different dishes made with quinoa, and this dish, Pastel de quinua, was one I created to peak interest in reimagining ways we cook with quinoa. I wanted to do so in a way that is still thought of as quintessentially Peruvian and at the same time not Americanized like the "quinoa and black bean burger" or a "quinoa salad," as two examples. So, mis amig@s, I leave you with this simple recipe. It is somewhere between a guiso de quinua and a pastel de papa and will not only offer you tremendous flavor but an incredible texture that could accompany a main dish as a side or even be the star of the show with a side salad to accompany it. Buen provecho!!
Pastel de quinua -- 12 servings
12 ounces of tricolor quinoa, cooked
1 medium sized yellow onion or 1 large vidalia onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
8-10 ounces evaporated milk (about 2/3 of a can)
1 cup queso fresco, cubed
1/2 cup cheddar cheese or blend, shredded
1 heaping teaspoon aji amarillo paste
1 teaspoon huacatay paste (Peruvian black mint)
1/2-3/4 teaspoon cumin, powdered
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
WASHING THE QUINOA: Whenever you use quinoa, it is important to wash it first. If you read the directions on the bag or box it will simply tell you to rinse. This is not enough. You should wash your quinoa at least 4 times, sometimes more if the water is still too cloudy. See pics above. Quinoa has saponin that coats each little seed. This is meant as a protection to deter birds from eating the seeds. It is very bitter tasting. The more time you take to wash your seeds, the less bitter they will be, even smooth tasting!
COOKING THE QUINOA: After washing several times, the quinoa has already begun to absorb some fo the water. This means cooking time is greatly reduced. I add washed quinoa to a pot, cover it with water and bring to a boil. I then discard that water and cover with fresh water, bring to a second boil then let it simmer for 10 minutes. Done! Fluff it up!
While quinoa is cooking, heat up your pan and sauté your onions until translucent.
Add a dash of salt, pepper and cumin. Sauté for 1 minute.
Add aji amarillo and garlic. Sauté for 1 minute.
Add cooked quinoa and huacatay. Fold gently so as not to make the quinoa mushy.
Add evaporated milk and heat until warm. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt to taste (do not add salt before milk).
Turn off the heat and gently fold in the queso fresco.
In a greased 9x13 baking pan, place quinoa mixture, gently evening it out to cover.
Add shredded cheese on top.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes then increase heat to 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes to brown the cheese.
Allow to set and cool a bit (15 min) before serving if you'd like nice, clean square servings as shown in the photos,
Can be served with a side salad as a main dish or with chicken and veggies as a side dish. Enjoy!
PRO TIP: If you would like to make this vegan, instead of adding milk use a bit of veggie stock. Instead of using cheese, add some nutritional yeast for not only flavor but pumping up the nutritional value and getting in those B vitamins!