I am knee deep in the middle of a love affair with Quinoa. I know it’s a bit weird to be so enamored of a food, but I’m not the only one. Quinoa has many devoted followers in health food circles, and, more recently, has become quite the trendy food among a more diverse group of diners looking for a nutritious and easy to prepare “grain.” In fact, Quinoa cooks in less time than rice and has a higher nutritional content, making it perfect for busy cooks.
Quinoa should definitely be in your cabinet. So let’s take a closer look at it:
Quinoa (pronounced like “keen-wah”), although considered a grain, is technically the seed of a plant that is related to the beet, chard and spinach plants. It is native to South America – particularly the Andean countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – where it has been grown since the time of the Incas. It was a dietary staple of the Incas until the Spaniards came and, in an attempt to destroy native culture, decreed it illegal under punishment of death to cultivate Quinoa. Cultivation survived, and today, there are several varieties available in the U.S., the most common being white, red and black.
Quinoa, regardless of the variety, is extremely good for you, and is sometimes referred to as a “Super Food.” Quinoa is high in protein, and the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids that the body is unable to produce on its own. Quinoa is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium (which regulates blood pressure) and manganese (an antioxidant). It contains healthy levels of B vitamins and vitamin E. It also contains a healthy dose of dietary fiber. It’s low in calories and is gluten free. Because of its high protein content, it is an excellent source of proteins for vegetarians, vegans or anyone wishing to cut back on their meat intake. (Click here for more on the health benefits of Quinoa).
Because Quinoa is a seed, it tends to sprout in moist situations. For maximum freshness, ensure there is no moisture in the quinoa you are purchasing or storing until you are ready to use it. If stored in a cool dry place, it will keep for several months.
When preparing Quinoa for cooking, it is best to wash the seeds first by placing them in a mesh strainer and running cold water over them until the water runs clear after passing through the Quinoa. The basic method for cooking Quinoa is adding 1 part Quinoa to 2 parts boiling liquid. Stir briefly then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. One cup of Quinoa usually takes about 15-20 minutes to cook. You will know it’s done because the water will be absorbed, and the seed will be translucent but still a little firm.
When cooked, Quinoa seeds are fluffy with a slight crunch. They have a very subtle nutty flavor. If you want to enhance the nutty flavor, you can dry-roast the quinoa for 5 minutes in a skillet after they have been rinsed and before cooking them. Like rice, Quinoa is very versatile. You can use it in much the same was as you would use rice – pilafs, chilled salads, soups, and stews. My favorite preparation is a very hearty vegetable salad. (click here for Quinoa Rainbow Salad recipe).