Store-cupboard superstar: Mark Hix cooks with quinoa

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Delicious, healthy and versatile, quinoa first impressed our resident chef on a recent trip to Los Angeles. Now, he can't get enough of the stuff.

I've never experimented with quinoa before, but when I was in Los Angeles over the New Year, I noticed it cropping up on menus in all the veggie restaurants in the city. Being a novice, I assumed that it was a kind of wholegrain – but in fact the word 'quinoa' relates to the seeds of one of the members of the beet and spinach family.

A couple of weeks ago I tasted a quinoa salad at the home of my friends Archie and Helen and thought it was delicious, so I'm devoting this column to recipes using this versatile, healthy staple.

Quinoa with fennel, prawns and chilli

Serves 4-6

You can serve this hot, or cold as a salad. Try to buy the best-quality cooked prawns you can, or cook them yourself and use the shells for a stock or bisque.

1 small bulb of fennel, trimmed and finely chopped
150-200g quinoa, soaked in cold water for a couple of minutes and rinsed
Approx 500ml fish stock
1tsp dried red chilli flakes
150g peeled weight cooked or raw prawns
4 spring onions, trimmed, finely chopped
1-2tbsp chopped dill or fennel tops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3tbsp olive oil

Bring the stock to the boil, add the fennel, chilli and quinoa, season and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until tender; the seeds will separate from the germ a little which gives them the lightness. Drain in a colander then return to the pan on a low heat with the prawns, spring onions and dill, then put the lid on and stir over the heat for a couple of minutes. If you want to serve cold, just allow the quinoa to cool and add the prawns, spring onion and dill when almost cold. Serve with some olive oil spooned over.

Minted quinoa with lamb fillet

Serves 4-6

This recipe utilises quinoa in a similar way to that of couscous in a tabbouleh. Use the tiny fillets from under the saddle; otherwise you could use a rump or chop.

4-6 lamb fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil

For the minted quinoa

100g quinoa soaked in cold water for a couple of minutes, rinsed and drained
4 spring onions, trimmed, finely chopped
A handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
A handful of mint, coarsely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the quinoa in a saucepan, pour over double the amount of boiling water, add a teaspoon of salt and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the seeds are separating from the germ. Drain. Once cool, mix the other ingredients in and enough olive oil to moisten it, season and put to one side.Preheat a griddle pan or heavy frying pan, season the lamb fillets, lightly oil the pan and cook the fillets for 2-3 minutes, keeping them pink. Slice the lamb fillets into 4 pieces each, spoon the quinoa on to serving plates; arrange the lamb on top. Garnish with a spoonful of natural yogurt mixed with chopped mint leaves.

Coconut and mango quinoa

Serves 4-6

I'm using the quinoa here like a rice pudding. You could use any fruit you like.

200g quinoa, soaked in cold water for 2 minutes then washed and rinsed

300ml milk
120g caster sugar
400ml coconut milk
1 large or 2 small mangoes, peeled, stone removed, flesh diced into 1cm cubes (reserve any trimmings of the flesh)

Put the quinoa in a saucepan with the milk and sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5-6 minutes; add half of the coconut milk; continue simmering until tender and the seeds are separating from the germ. Remove from the heat, add the rest of the coconut milk and f give the occasional stir as it cools. The consistency should be like a creamy rice pudding; if it's a bit dry then add some more coconut milk, or normal milk.

Take the mango trimmings and any flesh near the stone that can't be diced and blend in a liquidiser. To serve, spoon the quinoa into serving bowls, spoon the mango purée in the centre and scatter the diced mango over.

Quinoa with broccoli, raisins and pine nuts

Serves 4-6

Serve this hot or cold – it's a take on the classic pasta dish with the same ingredients.

150-200g quinoa, soaked in cold water for a couple of minutes, rinsed and drained
Approx 500ml vegetable stock
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
150g sprouting or normal broccoli, cut into small ½cm dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g raisins, soaked in warm water for 1 hour
60g pine nuts, lightly toasted
2tbsp chopped parsley
2tbsp chopped chives
3-4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Bring the stock to the boil, add the onion and quinoa, season and simmer for about 5-6 minutes, then add the broccoli and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or until tender; the seeds will separate from the germ a little which gives them the lightness. Drain in a colander then return to the pan, off the heat, with a lid on.

If you want to serve it cold just let it cool then stir in the raisins, pine nuts, herbs and olive oil and re-season if necessary and stir in the herbs or scatter on top. For hot, just stir everything together, and serve.E

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