Quinoa risotto with smoked mackerel and greens

I have a new possibly favourite recipe book: Donna Hay’s ‘Fresh and Light.’ The food styling is beautiful; clean and simple yet vibrant and fun. I honestly think I could eat anything out of that book (that doesn’t contain meat, of course). The recipe below is based on her pearl barley risotto but I have made a  few substitutions as I already had quite a bit of veg in my fridge that needed using up. The result was, I thought, delicious. And better still, it calls for a little red wine which means that you can enjoy a glass or two whilst cooking.

I substituted the pearl barley for quinoa, partly because I had quinoa in my pantry cupboard and partly because it is a fantastic grain.This grain crop has a long history of cultivation in south America; it was used as a staple by the Andean people 3-4000 years ago. The Incas held the crop as sacred and used it to replace scarce animal protein in the diet. After the Spanish conquest, the cultivation of quinoa was discouraged; the newcomers scorned the crop as ‘food for Indians’ and replaced it with other crops. This was a travesty. Around the world, many staple foods are low in protein, which hugely affects the protein intake of the populations who rely on it. Over time, protein deficiency leads to protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) which is particularly a problem in young children, as they have less fat stores so are more liable to malnutrition and need protein to grow. PEM is rare in the UK (it can be seen in certain diseases but very rarely in good health) as our diet is high enough in protein.

The world over, quinoa cultivation is now promoted by nutritionists due to it’s high protein content. It is a complete protein source, which means that it provides all the essential amino acids, which is rare for a plant-based protein. If you are in a developed country but rely on a vegetarian or vegan diet, quinoa is a highly beneficial grain to go for. However, you must still be aware that it does not have an amount of protein close to the amount you would finding eggs, meat or milk.

This recipe is so quick and easy to make (minimal washing up!) and serves 2.

INGREDIENTS:

2 tsp olive oil

6 shallots, quartered (you can use onion instead if you have some to hand)

2 cloves of garlic

2 courgettes, thinly sliced

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup vegetable stock

a generous handful of thyme sprigs (use the leaves and discard the stalks)

4 tbsp pine nuts

4 handfuls of spinach

Optional: add smoked trout on top of the dish when serving!

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METHOD:

1. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the shallots and fry to soften. This should take about 3 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and fry for another minute.

3. Add the courgette and again, fry until soft and looking slightly golden.

4. Add the quinoa, all the liquid and the thyme. Put a lid on the pan and leave until the quinoa is cooked through (about 12 minutes). You can tell when the quinoa is finished because it will absorb all the liquid. Using a 1:2 ratio quinoa: liquid means that the quinoa will still retain some ‘crunch’ – soggy quinoa is really dull.

5. Put the pine nuts in a roasting tin and pop in an oven at 180 degrees for a few minutes (be careful they don’t burn; keep an eye on them!)

6. When the quinoa looks finished, add the spinach and stir it into the risotto until it wilts.

7. Serve the quinoa, with smoked trout and pine nuts sprinkled over. Tuck in!

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