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Quinoa Salad and Perils in Peru

  • May 19, 2016

 It was no surprise to see quinoa on the menu at restaurants across Peru, including this salad my daughter ordered at a restaurant in Cusco during our recent vacation together. 

After all, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is a wonder food that dates back 5,000 years to Peru’s Inca civilization.
We were even served a quinoa pastry for breakfast on our train ride from to Ollantaytambo from Aquas Caliente (the nearest town to Machu Picchu, our ultimate destination).
Back home, I recreated the salad, but since the mango I had bought wasn’t quite ripe, I used nectarines instead, along with the avocado and maché lettuce that was in the original salad.
The second time I made it, the mango had ripened, and I added some red onion too, something that’s used quite a lot in Peru, I found. Whether you use nectarines or mangos (or even a peach or apricot), it’s a tasty salad packed with plenty of nutrition. Quinoa is a complete protein in itself, and if you have any gluten intolerant friends, they’ll thank you, since it’s not a grain, but the seed of a plant that’s in the same family as beets and spinach.
The real reason we went to Peru however, was not to eat quinoa, but to visit its breathtaking sights, including the most recognizable icon of Incan civilization — Machu Picchu.
My daughter had planned for us not only to traipse through the 15th century ruins, but had made reservations for us to hike the large mountain you see in the distance – called “Huayna Picchu,” or “Wayna Picchu.”
I should have known there would be trouble ahead, after learning that Huayna Picchu means “young person’s mountain,” while Machu Picchu means “old person’s mountain.”
More on the trouble later.
As we walked through the site, we couldn’t help but wonder how the Incans could have hauled these huge boulders and cut the massive stones without any iron tools, or how they could have created the walls and buildings without any mortar between the stones. Add the sheer height and the thin air to the mix and it becomes an almost unimaginable architectural feat.
Temples and houses are interspersed among the agricultural terraces.

It was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, but we were rewarded with stunning sights all along the steep climb.

Including wild orchids growing along the sides of much of the tropical forests along the mountain.
I wanted to turn around several times and go back to safer ground (and terrain that made it easier to breath) but was encouraged to keep going by not only my daughter, but by the people coming down the mountain who urged me to go slow and get to the top. Only 400 people a day are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu, and you have to reserve way in advance.
So onward we climbed, to these narrow, steep steps near the summit.
The steps seemed to get more narrow and more steep as we climbed higher and some people decided to turn back.
But there was no stopping us at this point, when we were so close to the top, even if we had to use our hands and knees part of the way on these ancient stone steps.

When we got to the top, we were rewarded with extraordinary views of the neighboring mountains and the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Very little is known about this archeological site that was hidden from most of the world until 1913 when National Geographic Magazine published an article by American professor Hiram Bingham, who two years earlier had “discovered”  it. Bingham wasn’t the first Westerner to have stumbled on it though.  That claim is thought to have been attributed to Augusto Berns, a German adventurer who looted the citadel’s gold and other artifacts.
After making our dizzying way to the summit of Huayna Picchu, we had unparalleled, spectacular vistas of the Andes mountains with 360 degree views. It seemed as though you could touch the sky.
Although it looks like she’s at the edge of the mountain, my daughter is sitting on a ledge with a small landing of grass beneath her feet, overlooking Machu Picchu and the zig-zaggy road used by vehicles to drive there.
After soaking in the almost mystical feeling of being in this ethereal place, we had to start our descent, and part of it was navigating through a tight crevasse in dim light, with jagged rocks hanging at eye level. For tall people like me and my daughter, we were crouching the whole time through the narrow passageway.
And so the descent began, on steps that were wide enough for only one person. Anyone coming in the other direction had to wait at the one of the platforms, where there was room to two or more to maneuver.
Careful as I was though, shortly after that last photo, I unfortunately slipped and injured my ankle. Nonetheless, I had no way to get down except to walk on my own. One kind stranger, seeing my distress, thankfully gave me her walking stick for the descent.
For two more hours, I took careful, slow and painful steps until I got to the guard shack at the entrance, where we had started earlier in the day and where we needed to check out.
My daughter called for paramedics, who came to my rescue a short while later. I am so grateful to Cristian and Riccardo, for the gentle way they cared for me, even if it meant an embarrassing shot in the rear in the mountain hut to help relieve the pain. Muchas gracias amigos.


 Back at home now, I’ve had time to reflect on this trip, and how special it truly was to see Machu Picchu and other sacred sights in Peru, and to have my daughter as my companion the whole way.
My daughter might say otherwise, given the handicap I thrust on her the last couple of days of the trip, but as for me, if I had to do it all over again – torn ligaments and sprained ankle included – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
But for the record, I may confine my exercise to swimming pools in the future.

Stay tuned for more adventures and recipes from Peru and in the meantime, try this delicious salad:
Peruvian Quinoa Salad
printable recipe here

1/2 cup quinoa (I used a mixture of white and red quinoa)
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons olive oil for sautéing
1 mango (or 2 nectarines or peaches or apricots), diced
1 avocado, diced
a couple of slices of red onion, minced
salt, pepper
3 T. olive oil for dressing
juice of one lime
Cook the quinoa in the water for about five minutes. This is less time than most packages call for, but in Peru, the quinoa was crunchy, and a waiter told me that the chef had sautéed it in some oil after it was boiled a bit.
Let the boiled quinoa cool a bit, then heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and toss the quinoa in the oil for a few minutes.
Remove to a bowl and let cool, then add the rest of the ingredients, adjusting seasonings and adding more lime juice (or white wine vinegar) if necessary.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa

  • September 15, 2014

 It’s the end of summer, and my vegetable garden looks as tattered as a scarecrow’s shirt, but it’s still providing me with those end-of-the-season tomatoes. Some of them went into plastic bags whole (yes, whole!) and are stashed in the freezer, awaiting soups and stews I’ll get to this fall and winter. If you’ve never tried it, it’s simple. You can take out one or two from the plastic bag, run under cold water and the tomato will be simple to peel. Cut into chunks, or leave it whole, and toss into a recipe for some extra color and flavor. 

But before you stash all those late summer tomatoes into the freezer, give this recipe a try.
Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a classic Roman dish, and my friend Frank has a great recipe for them, on his blog, Memorie Di Angelina.  This recipe however, uses quinoa instead of rice.
Start out by slicing off the top of the tomato, then scooping out the interior. (Save that pulp and juice and strain it to use later.)
Mix the cooled quinoa and swiss chard (or spinach or kale if you prefer) with cheese and seasonings.
Stuff the tomatoes, and pour a little of the tomato water in the dish.
Sprinkle with a little more of the cheese and bake.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa
printable recipe here

8 medium size tomatoes
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 heaping cup swiss chard (or spinach), roughly chopped
parsley, basil, minced
salt, pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup asiago cheese
olive oil for drizzling

Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and set aside in a colander, over a bowl. Press out the liquid, tossing aside the seeds and pulp (This part is optional, but I like to surround the tomatoes with the tomato water when I cook them.) Sprinkle some salt on the inside of the emptied-out tomatoes and turn them upside down over some paper towels to drain.

Cook the quinoa by adding it to the water and let it come to a boil.  Let it come to a simmer, cover and let it cook until the water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let it cool slightly. In the olive oil, sauté the onion until translucent, then add the garlic clove and swiss chard. Sauté until swiss chard is wilted. Add the seasonings. Mix the parmesan and asiago cheese together in a bowl, and set aside about 1/3 cup to sprinkle on the top when you put the tomatoes in the oven. Add the other 2/3 cup to the quinoa mixture.
Place the stuffed tomatoes in an ovenproof baking dish and top with the 1/3 cup cheese. Optional: Surround with 1/2 cup tomato water. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake at 425 degrees 1/2 hour or until top is browned. If it gets browned too quickly, lower the temperature to 400 degrees.