Try growing quinoa at home then make these roasted sweet potatoes stuffed with quinoa, beans, and queso for a delicious vegetarian dinner.
growing quinoa at home
Spending extra time at home during lockdown this spring meant more time for trying new things. One of those included starting my own quinoa plants from seed. I had no expectations, but plenty of time, so why not? I set up grow lights and seed trays in the basement, tucked the tiny quinoa seeds in potting soil, and patiently waited for warm weather.
Much to my surprise, we managed to grow ourselves some quinoa. Our plants reached over six feet tall with flowering heads in red, purple, and yellow shades. When they started to fall over at the height of summer, I tied them up, and they kept on growing, adding a stunning pop of color to the garden.
But the part that we eat is inside of the flowers: the seed. Did you think quinoa was a grain? Yeah, me too. Although we cook it like one, quinoa is technically a pseudo-grain. It's entirely a seed. The plant is actually part of the spinach and swiss chard family.
how quinoa became so popular
About twenty years ago, quinoa rose from an obscure item found only in health food bulk bins to a food that a majority of Americans are familiar with today. Why? There are several reasons. It's a low fat, high protein food that, as we know, acts and cooks similar to common grains. Though it's not just any protein, it's a complete protein that provides us with the nine essential amino acids we need. From a health perspective, it’s a big deal.
It’s worth noting that because it's not a grain, quinoa is also naturally gluten-free. And we know that the demand for gluten-free foods also significantly increased in the past twenty years. I’m betting there’s a correlation.
The quinoa boom story is an interesting one for global economics. At the time of its rise, between 2006 and 2013, in particular, false reports claimed that quinoa's price rose so high that the South American farmers who grew and ate it (and had been doing so for thousands of years) could no longer afford to do so. Supposedly, it was cheaper for them to import junk food than eat what they grew.
Although I remember hearing about this and feeling guilty for buying quinoa, fortunately, the story wasn’t accurate despite widespread circulation. In fact, the opposite was true. Studies indicate that quinoa’s popularity resulted in an increase in wealth for farmers and their communities, especially those in Bolivia and Peru, where most quinoa was grown.
every food has a backstory
However, the demand resulted in increased production in other countries and parts of the world. And that is a factor now impacting the farmers, as they can no longer receive the high price they once could. The moral of the story? Our food choices have a huge impact, whether or not we take the time to research and realize it.
The quinoa I grew at home was a fun experiment. But it has only made me appreciate the farmers who grow it even more. In the end, we only ended up with a couple of cups worth of quinoa from our plants. I think it’s a plant worth experimenting with if you’re looking to try growing something new next year, but certainly don’t forget the small farmers who may also rely on our continued import and purchase of their native seed.
a simple quinoa recipe
Even if you're not growing quinoa, you can still cook and enjoy it. So I leave you with a Peruvian inspired sweet potato recipe that’s stuffed with a mixture of quinoa and black beans and topped with a queso cheese sauce. It combined some of their common foods and flavors for a filling vegetarian meal. You can make it quicker by roasting the sweet potatoes up to a couple of days in advance. Just warm them up again before serving.
Looking for more stuffed vegetable recipes? Try my simple stuffed zucchini.Print