Quinoa Who?

I don't understand the quinoa hype currently sweeping through Lebanon. Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a seed grown in the Andes Mountains of South America. It has been touted for its superfood powers: its protein content is relatively high but not nearly as much as in beans and legumes; it is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorous; and it is rich in magnesium and iron. Vegans adore it because it is gluten-free. Lactose-intolerant folk cherish its calcium content. Lebanese like it because, well, it's popular in the West. You sold? I certainly am not.

Credit: http://www.reloveplanet.com/

And yet it's served everywhere. Casper & Gambini's features a light salad called "Lemon Quinoa." Bhar offers it as an ingredient in their salad bar--it was the first (and only) time I tried it, but I confess, I wasn't quite sure whether to use it as a base or topping for my salad, given its tiny and delicate nature.

Classic Burger Joint, the ever-expanding chain, has also jumped on the bandwagon, offering a vegetarian option in the form of a grilled quinoa patty. And it's in demand, especially during this Lenten season. Shakespeare & Co., a Victorian-style restaurant and cafe founded in Dubai and recently arrived to Dbayeh, also flaunts quinoa among its eclectic menu items (never thought I'd see scone and zaatar on the same menu). Even the tiny snack shop tucked inside the ground floor of Arab Bank on Riad el Solh Street and serving the banker population in near proximity has--count them--three quinoa-based salads. They offer standard tabbouleh and a quinoan edition, which replaces burghul with quinoa.

While I admire the push toward healthier foodstuffs, Lebanese cuisine is hardly in need of an overhaul. If you're into real grains (quinoa is only a seed, after all), try freekeh, a roasted green wheat common to the Levant that has a unique smoky aroma and nutty taste. Burghul, too, is tasty and versatile, present in tabbouleh, kibbeh, and the eponymous "burghul bi dfeen," a cracked wheat pilaf that can be made with or without meat.

How's that for local and organic?


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