Crossing culinary borders, the super seed is giving Indian staples like biryani a healthy makeover
A few years ago, a humble seed from the Andean region (think Peru and Colombia) took the world by storm. Besides adding to the global carbon footprint, it gave people a versatile ‘pseudo-cereal’ that was gluten free, packed full of proteins and fibre, and enriched with heart-healthy fats and nutrients like iron, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. If there was a drawback, it was that it was limited to staple Western dishes like salads and bakes. But now, top chefs in the country are helping quinoa take on local flavours by incorporating them in favourites like biryanis, upmas, dosas and even chaats. We speak with three chefs on how you can incorporate this healthy alternative into your diet.
—Surya Praphulla Kumar
Upma, Taj Coromandel
Chef Alok Anand’s breakfast menu is gaining more fans now, after he introduced the quinoa upma and dosa. “It’s one of the healthiest foods in the world and one of the most versatile. It’s great for people who don’t eat grains while fasting because it is the seed of a plant that is related to the beetroot family,” he says, explaining that before using it, you must rinse it thoroughly to get rid of the bitter coating the seeds have. Anand’s upma is the easiest thing to whip up at home. “Boil the quinoa (for approximately 15 minutes), then use the same tadka as you would for your everyday upma and add it to the quinoa with
the vegetables and masalas of your choice,” he says, adding that if you toast the seeds before cooking it you will get a lovely nutty flavour.
Anand’s tip: Since quinoa has a higher fat content, the heat in
the city could make it turn rancid very quickly. So store it in airtight containers in the fridge. “Also try using quinoa in your dosa batter (50 per cent quinoa and 50 per cent rice and urad dal),” he advises, adding that they are also great in pilafs, muffins, breads and payasams.
Camu Camu: An Andean berry, it has several amino acids, B vitamins, and 30 to 60 times more vitamin C than an orange
Chia seeds: Packs a punch with high levels of protein, omega-3, calcium, manganese and more Foxtail millet (thinai): Local to Tamil Nadu, it is high in proteins and iron, and rich in B vitamins Flax seeds: High in omega-3 fatty acids, it helps control high blood pressure and more
Bhel and kebab biryani, The Park
Giving a much-loved snack a twist is chef Radhakrishnan. His quinoa bhel promises to be quite addictive. “Use quinoa along with puffed rice in bhel puri for a really healthy chaat. Just cook it and fluff it up, before adding the remaining ingredients like tomatoes, onions, green chillies and chaat masala,” he says. And soon to be featured on the 601 menu is his ulavacharu kebab biryani, which was recently whipped up for an event at The Park Hyderabad. “Ulavacharu is a traditional Andhra stew with horse gram and spices. We cooked the mutton in ulavacharu and made kebabs with it. Then we made the quinoa—just like biryani rice, with mutton stock, whole garam masala, saffron, ghee, etc—and then we layered the quinoa and kebabs and cooked it in dum,” he explains, adding that the typical Andhra flavours compliment the quinoa beautifully.
Radhakrishnan’s tip: Don’t cook quinoa for too long or it will become very mushy. “There are different varieties available in the market, so follow the package instructions when you are cooking with it for the first time,” he says, adding that the darker you go with the seed, the nuttier the flavour.
Lamb biryani, Zehen
When chef Mehrotra was asked to come up with a health food concept for the Delhi-based spa-cum-wellness centre, he decided he wanted to do something that was not just healthy but also tasty. “People tend to cheat when they have cravings, especially with food like biryani. That’s how the idea came about,” says Mehrotra, adding that “the Indian palate loves hot food. We don’t find cold grains palatable.” His quinoa biryani is quite simple. “We cook lamb shanks in a stock, without any butter or ghee, and then reduce the stock, along with traditional biryani spices, to make a gravy. We then toss the lamb stock and cooked quinoa together,” he says.
Mehrotra’s tip: Steam
the quinoa. “The quality varies, so when you boil it, it may not always be good,” he explains. And why confine yourself to just a biryani. “Toss it with leftover chicken tikka or some stir-fried vegetables for a delicious yet healthy meal. And why don’t you
try a quinoa curd rice? But remember not to make the mixture too thin because quinoa doesn’t absorb as much water as rice,” he signs off.