Consider a warm bowl of spiced breakfast quinoa on a chilly winter morning. It reaches inside you and touches your soul, warmly hugs you and makes you smile at the world. Quinoa,the “gold of the Incas” is all the rage and what they call a ‘pseudocereal’ – a non-grain masquerading as one. A chai-spiced quinoa lightly tumbled in honey is an easy enough recipe to put together in time for breakfast.
What is quinoa?
It is the seed of a flowering plant belonging to the amaranth family, a relative of spinach. Quinoa comes in white, black, red and purple varieties. Consumed as a ‘grain’ since ancient times in South America, it is dense with amino acids; packing in protein like very few other vegetarian foods do. So, breakfast quinoa is a good way to kickstart your day, filled with not only protein but magnesium,iron Vitamin E and loads of fibre. Nutrition aside, the more immediate reason to include quinoa in your diet is it nutty taste and slightly chewy texture. I’m partial to it because it sits lightly in my tummy leaving me feeling full but not heavy or stuffed.
How to cook quinoa
There are 2 ways of cooking quinoa:
- The most popular method of cooking quinoa is in a pot or pan, in boiling liquid, covered for 15-20 minutes on the stovetop on medium heat.
- You can also cook quinoa in a pressure cooker – both in the manual one (with the whistle) and in the instant pot. Also in the rice cooker. I prefer this method because I find it results in fluffier cooked quinoa. I often cook a batch and use portions of it in different ways (salad, stir fry, porridge) as and when I need it.
But no matter which method you use, the ratio of liquid to quinoa remains 2:1, that means 2 parts water, milk or broth to 1 part quinoa. Uncooked quinoa greedily absorbs the liquid and swells up by 3-4 times when cooked. A single portion size should weigh about 60 g (uncooked quinoa).
My breakfast quinoa is inspired by a traditional Indian sweet semolina dish called suji ka halwa or sheera, which involves cooking fine-grained semolina in ghee, sugar and milk scented with cardamom. Raisins and cashewnuts are added to enrich the finished halwa. But unlike the original, this breakfast quinoa recipe uses only a little ghee, no milk and substitutes sugar with a few tablespoons of honey for just a touch of sweetness. My version is lighter, healthier and more nutritious but just as delicious; maybe even more, I daresay, with layers of chai spices such as cinnamon, dry ginger, cloves and black pepper.
Cooking the quinoa in water in the pressure cooker, gave me puffy kernels of quinoa with just the right amount of chew and bite. Make sure you wash the quinoa in a sieve under running water – it helps wash out traces of bitterness from the grain. Like most people in India, I use an old fashioned pressure cooker that comes with a separate weight or whistle that is afixed on the lid when a few wisps of steam start appearing. On a high flame,when the whistle blows (after approximately 10 minutes), I put off the stove, waited for the steam to cool before opening the lid and taking out the quinoa. It’s important to remember to cook the quinoa in a utensil that fits into the pressure cooker. Cooking it directly in the pressure cooker may result in a mushier texture. A rice cooker though, will yield fluffy quinoa.
Chai or masala chai as we say in India, has intense flavours of 5 or more spices. One would think that so many spices together would create a confused muddle but surprisingly, they all meld together beautifully while each manages to stand out as well. When you sip your chai, they each come and say hello to your palate in sequence, as if playing a part in an intricately choreographed movement. I powdered the whole spices freshly in a coffee grinder; this way, they retain their intensity. In fact,you can make small batches of the chai spice mix, store it in little airtight mason jars and sprinkle into your cuppa as and when you like. The nutty, earthy quinoa enthusiastically embraces the aromatic complexities of the chai spices and becomes deliciously fragrant.
I had a jar of lovely orange honey and I gently roasted the cooked quinoa in a tablespoon of ghee (you could use butter as well) with a drizzle of honey to sweeten it. Ghee has it own rich aroma,which only accentuates the heady hit of the spices. It is everything you need on a nippy winter morning – much like a favourite cashmere, it envelopes you in a cosy hug. Figs are in season, purple and plump on the outside and deeply delicious and pink inside. They added a touch of luxury to the breakfast quinoa. Strawberries come to mind as an alternative. This spiced quinoa breakfast on its own is complete, so skip the fruit if you prefer but remember to eat it warm to enjoy it fully.
- 180 g quinoa
- 340 ml water
- ½ tsp salt
- 3-4 tbsp honey
- 7-10 almonds, blanched and sliced
- For the chai spice mix
- 3 tsps fennel seed
- 1.5 tsp powdered dry ginger
- 5 green cardamom pods peeled
- 3 cloves
- 2 inch cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under a tap, put it in a pan with double the amount of water and salt and cook in a bowl covered and placed inside pressure cooker for 10 minutes on high or until the whistle goes off.
- Turn off the stove, let the pressure cool and remove the quinoa. Fluff lightly with a fork to loosen the kernels.
- Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a pan on medium heat and tumble in the cooked quinoa, stir and roast for 2 minutes.
- Drizzle the honey over and roast further for 3-5 minutes.
- Sprinkle 2-3 tsps of the chai spice mix and the slivered almonds into the quinoa. Cook for a minute more and serve warm with fresh figs or fruit of your choice.