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Quinoa is an annual herbaceous plant, or biennial, native to South America, where it develops particularly on the Andean highlands, therefore in particular climatic conditions. Quinoa belongs to the chenopodiacee family, meaning it is related to spinach (to cite a plant we know well), and its small seeds are consumed; it is not a cereal, but a pseudocerelae, as it does not produce flour from quinoa seeds. The plant is quite wide, it produces a rosette of large, wrinkled, oval leaves, from whose center quite thick stems are raised, which carry further leaves, and at the apex the flowers, which will give way to a myriad of small seeds; the "panicles" of quinoa are very reminiscent of millet or amaranth. It is a plant of easy cultivation, which does not require particular cultivation treatments, very resistant to drought, which survives even in poor soils.
In Italy it is widely used to produce sprouts, to be eaten raw, in salads, or cooked, in soups or omelettes; it is not yet possible, however, to cultivate it, at least not intensively. The particular climate on the Andean highlands is decidedly very different from the Italian one. There are many varieties of this plant, some are sown in spring, and harvested in summer; others are sown in autumn, for a harvest in late winter; in Italy the spring season is too humid and hot to allow the seeds to develop; autumn is instead too humid and cold, and therefore the seeds of the plant, which we find at the supermarket come from South America, generally from Bolivia, Perщ, Ecuador. If we want to try to grow quinoa in our garden, let us also remember that many insects can quickly prey on the plant of buds and flowers, leaving us completely without harvest.
It is an annual, and, as happens with many chenopodiacee, of a very vigorous and resistant plant, whose development is similar to that of an infestation plant. For these reasons, quinoa has been for thousands of years the fundamental food of all the people who live (and lived) in decidedly inaccessible and less hospitable areas of South America, where the cultivation of other plants was precluded, due to the scarcity of land, which it did not allow the cultivation of maize, and of the very cool climate, which does not allow the cultivation of many food plants. In ancient times quinoa (pronounced chinoa) was considered almost sacred, and was cultivated in almost all areas of the Andes; in some places the cultivation was stopped, due to the arrival of the Europeans, who in addition to imposing their laws, also tried to impose their religion, trying to eradicate the "natural" cults of the ancient inhabitants of America.
Today quinoa is still cultivated in most of South America, and is still a fundamental source of calories and food for many people; the cultivation is simple, since the seeds germinate in a few days, directly at home, and since every single plant can produce thousands of seeds; once the seeds left over from the previous year's harvest were reused, today there are some varieties of quinoa, whose seeds are available to farmers, who sow them on the sidelines, thinning out the plants that then sprout, to prevent them from growing excessively crowded . Watering is provided only if the climate is particularly dry, but in general this crop develops on its own, without the need for large interventions by man. The plants are harvested, eradicating them, when the cobs of seeds are light in color and the plants naturally tend to dry.
Quinoa in the kitchen
For many years we have been rediscovering the plants that consumed the men who preceded us, this because we have seen that the consumption of only three cereals, namely rice, wheat and maize, has caused a series of problems; including the need to always produce new varieties, resistant to pesticides, fungicides and even to insects that are always mutating; in addition to this, it also appears that celiac disease is derived from the use of wheat, which in Europe has been occurring for centuries, with increasing research and selection of new varieties. Quinoa, as well as millet or amaranth, does not contain gluten (not being a cereal), it is therefore suitable for feeding unfortunate people with celiac disease. The flavor is decidedly very good, although these seeds contain a certain amount of saponins, with a bitter taste, which are separated from the edible seeds simply by washing them carefully. It is not possible to prepare quinoa seed flour, but the dimensions are so tiny that it is possible to add to the baked goods a small percentage of whole quinoa seeds, to add their flavor and the nutrients they contain. Quinoa is more often prepared as it is, simply boiled or steamed, then used as couscous, or rice, for salads, soups, stuffing for rolls or vegetables. Quinoa seeds are suitable for feeding, even for children and celiacs; in addition to this they are a decidedly healthy dish, as quinoa contains a high content of proteins, polyunsaturated fats, mineral salts and vitamins.