Three thousand years B.C., possibly even more, the Incans were cultivating and consuming quinoa, which they called the “Mother of Grains.” Today, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is relatively unrecognized in the U.S., except perhaps to vegetarians, and not always easy to find.
That, however, is about to change, because quinoa is fast becoming the hot new food for foodies.
Why? Because it is one of nature’s most perfect proteins, containing eight amino acids, calcium, iron, phosphorous and magnesium, and it’s both high-fiber and gluten-free, so even those with wheat/gluten sensitivity can enjoy quinoa. Vegetarians love it for its protein content, ease of preparation, flavor and versatility; carnivores such as me love it for the same reasons.
In spite of the Incan people calling it Mother of Grains, quinoa isn’t actually a grain, but rather the seeds of the Goosefoot plant. (Does the name sound familiar in these parts?) Goosefoot is more closely related to beets, spinach, Swiss chard and such and, depending on where it is grown, the Goosefoot seeds, quinoa, can range in color from creamy white to almost black.
actually a grain, but rather the seeds of the Goosefoot plant. (Does the name sound familiar in these parts?) Goosefoot is more closely related to beets, spinach, Swiss chard and such and, depending on where it is grown, the Goosefoot seeds, quinoa, can range in color from creamy white to almost black.
The quinoa I’ve found and used, however, is most often in the light tan range, somewhere between wild rice and brown rice.
As an example of how common it is to know too little about what we’re eating, I’ve used quinoa for some time in my homemade soups because I like its texture and slightly nutty flavor. It seems to me to have a heartier flavor than rice or barley, which for years were my standard soup add-ins, but I hadn’t considered quinoa for other side dishes such as pasta, salads, puddings and pilafs. Nor did I think of it as a possible breakfast food, until recipes using quinoa began popping up in many of my favorite food magazines.
If you’ve never used quinoa but are thinking about giving it a try, just about anything you would do with rice you can do with quinoa, and preparation is about the same. Just be sure you rinse the quinoa seeds well in a sieve or by swishing in cold water in the sink before you proceed with any recipe. The outer layer of quinoa, saponin, is bitter, so rinsing is imperative. Most of the quinoa you’ll find packaged in the supermarket says it’s been rinsed, but it’s still wise to give it another good swish before you use it.
As for cooking, most recipes call for one cup of quinoa to two cups of water or broth (I prefer to use at least part broth unless I’m using the quinoa for a dessert pudding), and about 13-15 min. cooking time.
When it’s cooked, the outer shell partially curls away as the “kernel” expands or pops, giving the quinoa an appealing “curly” appearance. The cooked quinoa should be slightly firm or crunchy (i.e., al dente).
You can use it cold in salads, hot in side dishes, or in your breakfast bowl with fruit, and you may also occasionally be able to find gluten-free pasta made from quinoa flour.
So, find yourself a package of Goosefoot seeds, aka quinoa, and have fun experimenting with one of nature’s oldest and healthiest contributions to our world. And if you come up with a great new quinoa dish, please do let me know, so I can pass it on.
I love playing with “new” old foods.
Risotto is one of the most versatile of rice dishes; you can add virtually any other food to risotto and turn it into an easy, delicious main dish, side dish, even dessert.
Risotto is normally made with Arborio rice, but quinoa is a great, more nutritious substitute, and perhaps even a bit easier. Not so much stirring in of the broth as there is with risotto.
This quinoa risotto can serve as a main dish, but is an excellent complement to pork, lamb or beef.
QUINOA MUSHROOM RISOTTO
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 T. olive oil
1½ cups chopped onion
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed (to your taste; I use 4)
8 oz. sliced crimini mushrooms
6 oz. fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 t. chopped fresh thyme, divided
1 cup dry white wine
Grated Parmesan cheese
Bring 2 cups salted water to boil in a saucepan. Add quinoa, reduce heat to med.-low, cover and simmer until tender and water is absorbed, about 13-14 min.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over med.-high heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 min. Add garlic; sauté, stirring 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and thyme; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 6 min. Add wine; stir until wine is reduced and a bit syrupy, about 2 min. more. Mix quinoa into the mushroom mixture, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve, with cheese served as accompaniment.
The same is true for this quinoa pilaf with vegetables dish; great as either a main dish or side, and you can vary the vegetables depending on what’s fresh and available.
VEGETABLE QUINOA PILAF
1¾ cups low salt chicken broth
½ t. coarse sea salt plus additional for seasoning, as needed
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
6 baby beets, red or golden, peeled and cut into cubes (about 1/3-inch)
3 T. olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup each orange and red bell pepper pieces (about ½-inch)
½ lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into ¾-inch pieces
1 cup pieces (about ½-inch) small zucchini
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro
Bring broth and ½ t. salt to boil in a med. saucepan; add quinoa, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender and broth is absorbed, about 14-15- min. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, cover and set aside.
Bring 1¼ cups water to boil in a large nonstick skillet over med. heat. Add beets. Cover and cook until beets are tender, about 8 min. Uncover; cook until any water in skillet evaporates.
Increase heat to med.-high. Add olive oil and garlic; sauté ½ min. Add all bell peppers, asparagus and zucchini. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Saute until just tender, about 8 min., then add quinoa, green onions and parsley to skillet, tossing to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
This one is for the kids (but you’ll probably find yourself spooning it up), a dessert they’ll never know is nutritious and good for them.
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup quinoa
2 cups milk (you can use regular, low-fat or soy)
2 ripe bananas
2 T. sugar
Salt, to taste
1/2 T. butter
1/2 t. vanilla
Rinse the quinoa well; put in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 min.
Combine the milk, bananas, sugar and pinch of salt (or to taste) in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour into the pan with the quinoa and place over med. heat. Cook and stir until thick and creamy, about 5 to 10 min. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla and serve, warm.
Note: You can sprinkle the top of the pudding with a bit of grated nutmeg, or cinnamon, or brown sugar, if desired.
Many health food stores carry quinoa, but in supermarkets I’ve found it only in the specialty flours/grains etc. section (such as Bob’s Red Mill products).