Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is not some new language or alien life form, but rather a gluten-free whole grain that is good for you. Even though quinoa is not a common food item in our kitchens today, it is becoming more popular. It is a protein-rich, grain-like seed that originally comes from South America. Once upon a time it was known as the “gold of the Incas,” and it’s typically filed into the grain family. However, quinoa is actually related to spinach, beets and Swiss chard.
A Nutritional Powerhouse
What makes quinoa especially unique is that it is truly a whole grain and protein in one. It has a balanced set of all nine amino acids, making it a complete protein, unlike other grain foods such as rice, oats or wheat. Quinoa is high in fiber, phosphorous, iron and magnesium, while being filling and easy to digest.
In a half cup of cooked quinoa, you will find the following nutritional analysis:
- 127 calories
- 2 grams of total fat
- 10mg of sodium
- 23.5 grams of carbohydrates
- 2 grams of fiber
- 4.5 grams of protein
- 251 grams of phosphorous
With all the nutrition that it has to offer, quinoa is a great choice for vegetarians, vegans and those suffering from celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
How to Prepare Quinoa
You can find quinoa at most grocery stores in the flour section or with pastas and grains. Make sure you store it in a dry, cool area as you would other grain products.
Quinoa is a great replacement for rice or couscous in many hot or cold recipes. When prepared it is light and fluffy in texture with a delicate crunch. In general, you prepare it like you would rice, using 2 parts water or liquid for every one part of quinoa. It is recommended that you soak for a few minutes before cooking. If you don’t have time to soak, be sure to clean and rinse it thoroughly before preparing. It also picks up the flavor of whatever it is cooked in or mixed with.
Here are some ideas for how to use quinoa:
- As a substitute for pasta in a cold pasta salad
- Cooked with water or milk to make a breakfast porridge alternative to oatmeal. I like to add nuts and fruits for a well-rounded and delicious breakfast
- Added to soups to replace barley, rice or noodles or to make it vegetarian, but with the benefit of protein from the quinoa.
- Added to salad for nutrients and texture. I have a friend who substitutes quinoa for bulghor wheat in tabouli and other Mediterranean dishes
- Added as ground quinoa flour to your favorite baked goods, like cookies or muffins
Three of My Favorite Quinoa Recipes
These are some ideas to get you started thinking about quinoa and all its possibilities. The recipes are all in salad form, but one is clearly savory and the other two have some sweet elements tied into the salty flavor. I like them all because they taste so fresh, are healthy and can serve as a main entree, side dish or snack. They are filling and you can make enough for leftovers for a quick grab the next day. I love new recipes because I think of them as a great base to something I can be more creative with later.
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad — If you like a Greek salad, you will enjoy this.
- Quinoa Salad with Apricots and Pistachios — I don’t like cilantro, so I don’t add it to this recipe. It still tastes great. I thought the mint was weird at first, but it is truly delicious and refreshing. I have even starting adding a bit of fresh mint to just a regular fruit salad. Yum!
- Quinoa with Dried Cherries and Pistachios —I know it is a bit redundant, but it is different than the previous recipe with apricots. Plus, I love pistachios. I have tried this recipe with dried cranberries and with blueberries, every way has been great.
Don’t be scared. Try quinoa and let me know what you think. If you’ve tried quinoa before, please share your thoughts or recipes with us here. Allow your love for food to expand by trying this nutritious and unique gift from nature. If the Incas saw it as “gold” it can’t be that bad, right? Enjoy!
Photo Credit: zorbs