Vegan Veg: Growing the golden grain
By: Lonnie and Richard Morris
Quinoa has been widely used for thousands of years and was historically known as “the Gold of the Incas”. This month vegan veg grower Lonnie Morris explains how to grow it while partner Richard brings you some tasty recipes from his kitchen.
The term ’superfood’ is one that is currently under debate. However, if superfoods do exist, quinoa (pronounced ’keenwah’) has to be one of them. Originating, unsurprisingly from South America, we use it as a grain, however, it is actually a relation of spinach, chenopodium, and as such grows easily in the British climate.
If we were to take climate change seriously, we would be reducing our consumption of meat and quinoa is a great source of protein. In fact, I believe it is the only staple that provides us with all nine amino acids. If you haven’t tried it in the kitchen, I urge you to do so. It’s a great alternative to rice and bulgar and is light and gentle on the stomach.
I start the seeds off in pots in April; since only a few plants are needed to get quite a quantity of quinoa ’grains’, I find it easier this way. Additionally, young plants look like the weed fat hen, so if you put them out as established plants, you won’t hoe them by accident!
As this magazine drops through the letterbox, it’s time to plant them out. However, it’s still not too late to sow them if you’d like to give it a go. The plants grow quite large so place them about half a metre apart. They grow tall and will need staking by mid-summer. Keep them well watered and mulch them to prevent competition from weeds.
Keep an eye on them as the autumn approaches. When the first grains begin to fall from the plants, that’s the time to harvest them. Winnowing is the most difficult part. The easiest way to do this is to tie a piece of cloth around the plants and gently shake them. Most of the grain comes away with patience. Another method is to place the plants in water. Most of the grains will sink and therefore separate from the seedheads. They can be dried and stored in an airtight container until required but do remember to wash the grain thoroughly. If there’s any bitterness then you haven’t washed it sufficiently and changing the water when you cook them might be the answer.
A row of about 10 plants provides around 20 portions of quinoa so a couple of rows are enough for the two of us to have a decent supply.
The only pest I have observed is flea beetle and that really doesn’t matter as you’re not going to use the leaves. The seeds, being bitter, are naturally protected from pests including birds and rodents.
Sourcing the seed
Quinoa is often sold for sprouting. This is off-white and has already been thoroughly washed.
Two varieties sold for the home grower are ‘Tamuco’ and ‘Rainbow’. ‘Tamuco’ is a yellowish colour and ‘Rainbow’ is, as the name suggests, multi-coloured. These are supplied by the Real Seed Catalogue (www.realseeds.co.uk) An unnamed variety is also for sale on eBay alongside some other interesting seeds. ‘Chilian’ and ‘Kaslala’ are two other varieties I have yet to find in the UK.
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