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Quinoa, The Versatile Food!

Originating in the Andes more than 6,000 years ago, quinoa has been "rediscovered" of late closer to home -- and with good reason. Pronounced kin-WAUGH or kin-OH-ah, quinoa is an excellent source of protein, fiber, amino acids, iron and magnesium. No wonder it was renowned for increasing the stamina of ancient Inca warriors!

Quinoa is an especially good choice for vegetarians and vegans who need to up their protein intake; because it's gluten-free, people with wheat allergies or sensitivities can eat it. Although often classed as a grain, quinoa is technically a seed from a plant related to spinach and beets. Three varieties of the plant are most commonly cultivated for seed production -- resulting in white, red and black quinoa. When cooked, the dried seeds have a fluffy texture with a bit of crunch, and impart a nutty flavor -- making quinoa a toothsome alternative to rice, couscous or even bulgur wheat in recipes. Although modern processing removes most of the bitter, mildly toxic saponins that coat the seeds as they grow, it's a good idea to wash and drain quinoa before cooking. Once rinsed, prepare quinoa just as you would white rice -- that is, place one part quinoa to two parts water in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes. When it's ready, the quinoa grains will still be a little chewy -- think al dente pasta -- and the germ of the seed will have separated slightly, creating a curly "tail."

You can find quinoa in the pasta aisle of most grocery stores, or in the bulk bin of your natural foods store. Because it contains protein and fats, quinoa is slightly more perishable than rice or other true grains; use it within three months of purchase.

Quinoa is also:
  • A very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, thus promoting healthy blood pressure.
  • A very good source of minerals that help provide antioxidant protection, which helps slow the aging process.
Cooking Quinoa:
Quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times its original size. Before cooking, dry quinoa should be rinsed well to remove a soapy coating on the seeds called saponins. The general rule of thumb is to cook one part rinsed quinoa in two parts water (or broth). Bring the liquid to a boil, add quinoa and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook gently for about 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Quinoa has a creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a mild, nutty flavor.

Ways to Enjoy Quinoa:
  • In side dishes - combine cooked quinoa with your favorite beans (black, pinto, and garbanzo) fresh herbs, and a vinaigrette.
  • In soup – replace noodles or rice with cooked quinoa.
  • In tabouleh – serve as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the bulgur wheat which is typically used.
  • For breakfast – add chopped nuts and fresh or dried fruits.
Here's my favorite breakfast recipe for quinoa:
This delicious, high-protein, gluten-free grain is not just for savory dishes. Quinoa is extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, from breakfast to dessert. For a sweeter breakfast bowl, add 1 to 2 tablespoons Agave Nectar, Honey or Piloncillo.

Apple–Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa
Makes 4 (¾ cup) servings
Image of Apple–Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa
2 cups Fat Free Milk or Almond Milk
1 cup Dry Quinoa, well rinsed (see note)
1 medium Apple, diced
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Salt
½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Garnish (optional)
¼ cup Raisins or Currants
¼ cup chopped Toasted Almonds or Walnuts
Fresh Mint Leaves, sliced

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat. When the milk is almost boiling, stir in the quinoa, apple, cinnamon, and salt. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until most of the milk has been absorbed. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract, cover tightly, and let rest for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Garnish with currants, nuts, and mint, if desired. Note: After measuring, rinse quinoa with cold water in a fine strainer to ensure that any saponins are removed. These plant chemicals can add a bitter taste to your cooked quinoa if not thoroughly rinsed away.

Per serving:
200 calories
4 g total fat
0 g saturated
0 mg cholesterol
95 mg sodium
35 g total carbohydrates
5 g sugars
5 g fiber
7 g protein
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