An Old Fashioned Way to Taste the Flavors of Peru

Courtesy Raymi restaurant, NYC
Courtesy Raymi restaurant, NYC

"What comes to mind when you think of quinoa?" This was the question posed at a recent gathering of journalists and restaurateurs at Raymi restaurant last week for a special tasting menu in which quinoa was the featured ingredient in every dish.

My first thought went straight to the word itself. I love words and "quinoa" is a fun one. Doesn't sound much like it is spelled. Pronounce it "keen-wah." To me it sounds like musical phrases that would come from a trumpet. As in, "Oh, I just loved the quinoa at the end of that Ellington tune!"

However, quinoa has not much to do with music (unless someone somewhere has written a song about it), instead it is the national seed (not grain, a common misconception) of Peru. Used in place of rice or other starches in many dishes from soup to mains, it has a pleasant roasty-nutty flavor and cooks quickly. It has recently enjoyed a popularity with health aficionados around the world for its relatively high protein content and lack of wheat gluten, finding itself in everything from prepackaged side dish mixes to veggie burgers to chips and pastas.

This week many restaurants in New York City will be showcasing the versatility of quinoa in a variety of dishes as part of Quinoa Week:

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

And what better way to taste quinoa than with the national spirit of Peru - Pisco?

Most people have experienced Pisco in sours and another popular Peruvian cocktail, the Chilcano, which consists of Pisco, ginger ale (or better yet, fresh ginger juice with soda water) and lime. At the excellent quinoa tasting dinner at Raymi last week (I am still craving that duck course), we were also treated to both quinoa AND Pisco in one genius cocktail - the Quinoa Pisco Old Fashioned. Here's the recipe to try it at home. The quinoa simple syrup is easy to make and quite delicious, lending a spicy, nutty quality to the drink. The recipe makes enough to play with in other drinks. It would even be fantastic simply mixed with non-alcoholic iced tea or lemonade. Note: it takes a few hours to allow time for the syrup to absorb the quinoa flavor, so plan accordingly.

Quinoa Pisco Old Fashioned

Adapted from a recipe by Roberto Rosa, head bartender at Raymi and NYC winner of the Bacardi Legacy Competition. His version of the drink is now available at the bar. 

To make Quinoa Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, dissolve equal parts 1 cup sugar and water over low heat, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Soak 1 cup of rinsed quinoa in the syrup several hours or over night. Since the seeds are so tiny, best to strain the syrup through a mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth or paper towel.

To make the Old Fashioned: Stir all ingredients except the garnish in a mixing glass with ice until well chilled. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with new ice, or better yet, one large cube. Rub the twist around the rim of the glass and express the oils into the drink before dropping it in.