Southern Colorado and finicky plants don’t usually go together. Unless, of course, that crop is quinoa! This versatile grain has been growing in South American mountains for centuries, but only recently developed superstar status in the States. Nutritionally, quinoa is about as perfect as a food gets: it’s high fiber, provides complete protein, doesn’t raise blood sugar, and is high in vitamins and minerals. Quinoa prefers marginal soils and harsh weather conditions: Colorado is one of the few places in the world that it thrives.
Quinoa likes cool soil and germinates best if refrigerated for a week before planting. Prepare a level, fast-draining bed; Plants can gow up to six feet high and shade other plants, so be sure to grow in a location with at least 6 hours of daily full sun in east-west position. Sow quinoa seeds about an inch deep directly into a prepared bed in late April to early June. Final spacing should be about 20” apart.
The seeds will be ready to harvest in August. In the meantime, use the leaves in salads and sandwiches. Quinoa is a relative of the lambsquarter, a common, spinach-flavored green that is gaining in popularity by small farmers.
When the seeds separate easily from the seed heads, cut off the seed heads and hang them upside down to dry. Beat the seeds free of the stalks, capturing them in a clean bucket, and filter out chaff with a loose sieve.
Making It Edible
Next, you’ll need to remove the bitter, soapy-tasting saponin that coats the outside of each seed. Pour hot water over the grain and allow it to soak for several hours. Rinse with plenty of cold running water. You may have to repeat the process if some of the bitter coating remains. For future use, dry the seeds in a 100-degree oven. To cook, just combine one part quinoa to two parts water, cover, and place over medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Three Ways to Use Quinoa
- Cook and serve with almond milk, dried figs, and a sprinkle of brown sugar for a satisfying oatmeal substitute.
- Combine one cup cooked quinoa, ¼ diced red onion, ½ peeled, diced cucumber, ½ seeded and chopped tomato, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate overnight to blend flavors, and you’ll have a savory salad for lunch.
- Substitute quinoa for rice in your favorite pilaf recipe.