I’ve been surprised lately how many people I’ve talked to who are not yet familiar with quinoa (keen-wah). I thought I’d write a quick post to encourage anyone who has not tried it to do so. This is one gluten-free super grain that you need to have in your diet. It cooks in just 18 minutes, is packed with nutrition and tastes terrific. Interestingly enough, 2013 has been declared the Year of Quinoa by the United Nations.
Ancient Quinoa – Seed or Grain?
Quinoa is the ancient “mother grain” (really a seed) that powered the Inca Indian nation. It’s been grown for thousands of years, high in the Andes mountains. Quinoa is light, fluffy, and high in protein and fiber. Think of to like you would rice.
Quinoa is a complete protein, which is rare for something from the plant world and a bonus for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat animal protein.
Quinoa contains essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein for our bodies. “Essential” means they cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained in our diet. Nutritionally speaking, quinoa is a great choice.
Quinoa also contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. All of that aside, if it didn’t taste good no one would eat it. Thankfully, it tastes great.
How To Cook Quinoa
You will find quinoa in three colors at the market: red, white and black. I like to buy the tri-color organic blends or the red because it is visually more interesting.
Quinoa cooks up light in texture and has a pleasant nutty flavor. What looks like bird seed pops open as it cooks and unfurls to become soft fluffy grains. To cook quinoa, begin by rinsing it well in a fine sieve under cold running water. Quinoa has a natural, bitter coating called saponin. Read the bag you’ve purchased. Most brands are not pre-washed.
The ratio is 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of liquid. You can use water for basic quinoa. Vegetable broth or chicken broth will add more flavor. Bring quinoa to a boil as you would rice. Use a small, 2 quart (half liter) saucepan. When quinoa comes to a boil, cover it with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat as low as it will go. I’ve discovered that 18 minutes of cooking works perfectly (even though packages list varying times).
When your timer goes off after 18 minutes, leave the pot covered and move to cool burner. Allow the quinoa to steam finish for about 8 minutes. Lastly, fluff with a fork and either dress to eat right away or cool and refrigerate to use in other ways. I’ve listed a few ideas below.
How to Enjoy Quinoa
Quinoa is very versatile. That’s why even for the two of us I cook a whole cup, because we can eat it in a variety of ways during the week. Here are a few ideas on how to enjoy your quinoa.
- Simply season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with a good olive oil or truffle oil and enjoy. Throw in some chopped chives or other fresh herbs for more color and flavor.
- If you have leftover cooked vegetables, chop them into small pieces and add them to the quinoa, toss and enjoy a combination side dish. Season to your liking.
- Eat it for breakfast. Treat cooked quinoa like you would oatmeal. Add a little warmed milk, cow, almond, whatever you enjoy, and add dried fruit, fresh berries, or sliced bananas. Add a little honey for some natural sweetness.
- Use cooked quinoa for a healthy chilled grain salad, like this quinoa tabouleh
- Use it along with either cooked ground lean turkey or beans to make stuffed sweet peppers
- Substitute it for rice or couscous with your next meal
- Make a pilaf-style side dish with chopped nuts, chopped fresh herbs and dried fruit (try cranberries or apricots)
I hope this has encouraged you to try quinoa. Honestly, its something we could not live without any more. Please let me know if you do.
One last note – When people tell me they don’t like quinoa, I ask how they cook it and how they season it. When cooked properly, the grains should be light and fluffy, not crunchy. And as you need to season plain rice, you also need to season quinoa. It is a blank palette you can do lots with.
Most of the quinoa we see in stores is grown in Bolivia and Peru. American-grown quinoa from Colorado, available from White Mountain Farms, but you have to order online and pay for shipping. I big mine at Traders Joes and Whole Foods (in bulk).