You've heard about the goodness of whole grains: the B vitamins, the fiber, the minerals…but where can you get this good stuff besides brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread? Quinoa! Pronounced "KEEN-wah," the ancient Incas called it the Mother Grain and they were definitely on to something good.
Quinoa, which is actually a small dried seed, has been cultivated for thousands of years in South America. This little powerhouse has the highest protein content of any other grain. And since it contains all eight essential amino acids, quinoa is considered a complete protein. It also delivers fiber, iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A and E.
Quinoa's flavor is slightly nutty with a pleasing crunchy texture. In addition to tasting great, it's also very simple to cook and blends well with numerous other ingredients. It's so versatile it can be substituted for rice, pasta, couscous, bulgur or millet in just about any recipe. And it's gluten free - excellent news for anyone with a gluten allergy or sensitivity.
Quinoa is the perfect summertime grain because it cooks very quickly - helping you keep the kitchen cool. Make sure to remember that rinsing quinoa is an important step. The seeds are coated with saponins, naturally-occurring plant chemicals that can cause a bit of a bitter taste. Their purpose is to keep insects from eating the plant! While most quinoa is rinsed prior to packaging, it's best to be safe and rinse it again. I like to put it in a bowl and swirl it around in water, drain in a very fine mesh strainer, and repeat a few more times, making sure the water is clear.
Here's the basics on cooking quinoa. Drain and place washed quinoa in a saucepan with 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa. Add a pinch of sea salt, bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa looks translucent. You will see the white outer germ forming a ring around the grain.
Quinoa is great in a number of dishes including salads, tabbouleh, side dishes, breakfast cereal and lots of cool summer dishes. Here are some ideas to try:
- Toss some quinoa with cut up carrots, cucumbers and celery. Add ranch or vinaigrette dressing.
- Use quinoa for any whole grain salad recipe. Here is a simple idea: Mix cooked quinoa with Mandarin oranges, sliced scallions and chopped red peppers. Toss with some tamari, olive oil and orange juice.
- Cook the quinoa in vegetable or chicken broth for extra flavor.
- Make pilaf by stir-frying your favorite veggies in olive oil and adding the cooked quinoa then season with tamari, herbs or salt and pepper. Or try this Quinoa Pilaf with Dried Cherries and Toasted Pecans. Stir together hot cooked quinoa with hot cooked black beans. Add some chopped jicama, salsa fresca, ground cumin and cilantro.
- Make quinoa with pesto: Simply stir pesto into hot quinoa. If desired, top with roasted pine nuts and a grating of cheese.
- For breakfast, cook quinoa and add chopped walnuts or almonds, dried and/or fresh fruit. My favorite: Cooked quinoa with sliced bananas and raisins, topped with chopped roasted pecans and a tsp of honey.
- Substitute quinoa for bulgur in tabbouleh salad.
- Got leftover steak? Slice it, add some cooked quinoa, any chopped veggies and balsamic vinaigrette.
- Throw a handful of washed quinoa into a pot of soup in place of noodles or rice.
- I prepared this Quinoa Pilaf with Dried Cranberries and Almonds recipe and served to our customers for the grand opening of our new Annapolis store. It was a huge hit!
- Three-Bean Salad with Quinoa is a super healthy summertime salad.
- If you enjoy chicken salad like I do, then you will love this chicken salad with grapes and quinoa.
- This quinoa dish, primavera with chicken, peas and asparagus, is a complete meal and one I have made often.
- This quinoa salad includes green beans and pumpkin seeds.
Quinoa makes a great substitute for rice for many favorite dishes such as chicken and rice, Spanish rice, paella, and stuffed peppers. Here's a good recipe for quinoa-stuffed peppers
Got a favorite quinoa recipe, or a great idea for how to use it? I'd love to hear.