Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quinoa Soup

It took me nearly ten years to see Bolivia again. In my mind, I built up Bolivia to be this magical place where not only my childhood took place, but a place untouched by the evilness of industrialization, mass production, and globalization.

(Lomas de Arena: Sand Dunes, Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

Of course, a lot of things have changed.

(La Paz, Bolivia)

When I lived in Bolivia, I barely left my city, Santa Cruz. The cuisine of the altiplano (or the high altitude regions) is pretty different from the cuisine of the lowlands. La Paz, the capital, is dry, cold in the shade, hot in the sun, and you're basically living amongst the clouds. People here eat a lot more quinoa than they do in Santa Cruz. Most of the quinoa comes from the altiplano because quinoa is hardy and it can grow in high altitudes. The andes are the perfect place for quinoa to grow. During our trip to La Paz and the Salar de Uyuni, we had a lot of quinoa soup and cooked quinoa instead of rice. European backpackers rejoiced.

Quinoa has been cultivated since the Incan times and they believed the crop was sacred. Quinoa means "mother of all grains" but when the Spanish conquered Bolivia, they scorned quinoa as "food for Indians." How ironic that now, in 2011, quinoa is recognized for what it is - a superfood, and people all over the world are shelling out the big bucks to get some quinoa in their diet.

In most of the world that now sells quinoa, it is usually sold in boxes or pre-packaged containers and it has already been pre-rinsed for convenience cuz let me tell you, rinsing organic, uncleaned quinoa is a step and a half!

The quinoa that I brought back from Bolivia is not pre-rinsed so the first step is to remove the saponins (natural laxative) by either soaking the quinoa in water for a few hours, then changing the water and resoaking, or rinsing the quinoa in ample running water for several minutes in a fine strainer. There's also small stones that I have to sift through, which is definitely easier to do when it's not cooked yet.

One of the things I love doing is making things ahead of time. Since quinoa can be eaten hot or cold, I like making them in batches to last throughout the week. My favorite dish though, has to be the Quinoa Soup. The European backpackers were gushing over it the entire tour of the Salar and when we got to our salt hotels and the lady brought us over some Quinoa Soup, we all felt this intense connection with the land, the people, the history, and the community.

This is my rendition of the Quinoa Soup that I had at Salar de Uyuni, the highest and largest salt bed in the entire world, containing more than 50-70% of the world's lithium.

Those little dots are people, not dirt on your computer screen. If you ever have a chance to visit the Salar de Uyuni, it's a once in a lifetime experience. Mostly because after seeing the beautiful landscape once, you probably won't want to go back again because the altitude sickness is no joke and riding around in an SUV for a few days in unpredictable terrain is nerve-wracking and not for the easily nauseous. But, pictures can do no justice to the immense beauty that you will experience when you see it with your own eyes.

Coming back home, one of the first things I knew I had to make was quinoa soup. I might be able to (or want to) go back to the Salar de Uyuni again but I sure as hell will miss having quinoa soup, the cute European cafe's hearty breakfast, and the coca tea that was the only saving grace when my altitude headaches were at its peak.

Quinoa Soup Recipe


2 tablespoon butter
1 cup diced onions (I use sweet yellow onions)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika (or just paprika)
1 teaspoon of Ancho Chile Pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
.5 teaspoon of white pepper
1 teaspoon of 21 seasoning salute (Trader Joe's)
1 pound of beef
10 cups of water
2 cups peas (I used frozen)
2 cups cooked quinoa
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
4 tablespoon chopped parsley or cilantro if you have it on hand
salt to taste

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot. This is where the rest of the soup will go in so make sure you get a big enough pot.
2. Add the onions, garlic, tomatoes, seasoning, cook for 5 min, stirring often.
3. Add the beef and cook until meat is browned.

4. Add the water, increase the heat and bring it to a boil.
5. Then, lower the heat to medium low and cook for around 40 minutes to an hour, until meat is tender.
6. Add the potatoes, peas, carrots, cooked quinoa, and bring to boil again.
7. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 min until the potatoes are tender.

8. Add herbs and salt (Unfortunately I didn't have any herbs on hand but it was still awesome).

9. Serve piping hot! 

I love Quinoa Soup. This soup keeps really well but it won't last long, I promise!

In Bolivia, I discovered quinoa in many forms and in many different types of food. From quinoa flour to pasta, it was everywhere. But, the most fascinating form was popped quinoa, which they call Quinoa Pop. This kind of quinoa can be eaten like cereal, or combined with cereal, as well as a topping on ice cream, yogurt, and it even reminds me of rice krispies in chocolates.

So far, I haven't seen this form of quinoa in the U.S. so I'm savoring each bag of Quinoa Pop!