Quinoa is the ancient “mother grain that powered the Inca Indian nation. It’s been grown high in the Andes mountains for thousands of years. Quinoa is light, fluffy, and high in protein and fiber. Think of it like rice. And it’s actually a seed, not a cereal grain, sometimes referred to as a psuedo-grain. If you are unfamiliar with quinoa it’s time to learn about this amazing ancient grain. Here is all about quinoa and how to cook it.
Ancient Quinoa – Seed or Grain?
I’ve talked with people who are not yet familiar with quinoa (keen-wah) so 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 15-18 minutes. It’s packed with nutrition and tastes terrific. Plus 2013 has been declared the Year of Quinoa by the United Nations.
Quinoa is a great choice because it provides complete protein. Rare for a food from the plant world and a bonus for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat animal protein. Quinoa contains all 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. In terms of minerals, quinoa contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.
Quinoa comes 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. Black quinoa has more omega -3 fats than the red or white, and both the black and red provide higher vitamin E than the white.
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 you need to rinse off.
How To Cook Quinoa
The ratio is 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of liquid. You can use water, vegetable broth or chicken broth. Use a small, 2-quart saucepan. When quinoa comes to a boil, cover it with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat to low. I’ve discovered that 18 minutes of cooking works perfectly for me (even though packages list varying times).
When your timer goes off, leave the pot covered and move to a cool burner. Allow the quinoa to steam finish for about 7-8 minutes. Lastly, fluff with a fork and dress to eat right away. If you are cooking it for future use, spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet then package, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 4 days. It freezes well too.
How to Use 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 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 or maple syrup for natural sweetness.
- Use cooked quinoa for a healthy chilled grain salad, like this quinoa tabouleh
- Add it to chile
- 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)
- Add to a green salad for more protein.
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.
All About Quinoa and How to Cook It
- 1 cup quinoa red, black, white or tri-color blend
- 2 cups water or broth, vegetable or chicken
- pinch salt
- Place quinoa in a fine sieve and run cold water through it for a few minutes to rinse well. If you have a spray attachment, use that.
- Place quinoa in a 2 quart pan, add water and pinch of salt. Bring the pot to a boil. Place a tight fitting lid on the pan and turn heat down to very low. Allow quinoa to cook for 15-18 minutes, then remove from the heat to a cool burner and allow to sit for about 7-10 minutes, covered, to steam finish. Fluff with a fork and dress as desired to serve.