Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quin-what? Quinoa!

gluten free
Quinoa seeds image from
If you've never heard of quinoa before now, you’re probably thoroughly confused at the moment. If you already know about this energy-boosting complete protein, you’re probably a fan of all it has to offer. The list isn't a short one, either; quinoa has bragging rights to numerous healthy qualities. Do you know all about quinoa nutrition?

Lesson One: Rewind! What is quinoa?

Quinoa is a seed, technically, but is eaten and prepared as a whole grain. Quinoa is from the same family of vegetables as spinach and beats. It grows in mountain air 10,000 feet above sea level and poor soil, so quinoa stalks come from a tough plant. Through even extreme weather, quinoa stalks grow up to about six feet and can produce an entire cup of seeds. Equivalent to about the size of a sesame seed, a quinoa seed can be found in a variety of colors but store-bought quinoa is typically white. Specifically, quinoa can be purchased at natural food stores and occasionally the well-stocked organic section of your local grocer.

Lesson Two: Why should I even care about quinoa?

To start, vegetarians capitalize on it as a complete protein; it’s packed with all of the amino acids necessary to meet nutritional protein levels. Quinoa is also a friend to celiac patients and others who abide by a strict gluten free diet. And the list goes on. Nearly everyone can appreciate the fact that its high levels of Riboflavin boost energy levels and metabolism, and that it contains nearly twice as much fiber as most grains. To top it off, quinoa is a good source of iron, calcium, manganese, copper, lysine, and magnesium.

Lesson Three: You've got my attention! But how can I prepare and eat this super-food?

Luckily for you, quinoa is known for its versatility. It can be incorporated into so many different types of meals and snacks. There are quinoa salads, quinoa soups, curried quinoa— the possibilities are practically endless. It can easily become a staple in your kitchen. However you incorporate it into your diet, the first step to cooking quinoa is always the same.

Quinoa is covered with a bitter, natural coating called saponin. This taste will ruin even your best quinoa recipe if not thoroughly rinsed off. Fortunately, quinoa bought within the United States has usually already been rinsed and dried before it’s on grocery store shelves. To be sure, always rinse off quinoa before cooking or let it soak for five minutes in cold water. After the rinse, you can dive into either of these fine recipes with quinoa for your first venture into all that is quinoa.

Winter Fruit Salad from

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

1 1/3 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
2 kumquats - seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Bosc pear - peeled, cored and chopped
1 cucumber - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup trimmed and coarsely chopped watercress

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa and water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat stirring often, until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and cool completely.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the kumquats, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, pear and cucumber. Add the dressing and toss well. Add the watercress and toss again and serve.

Vegetable Quinoa Winter Soup from

Ingredients (for 8-10 cups): 

1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup red quinoa, uncooked
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
Quinoa soup image from
1 zucchini, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups diced tomatoes,  juice included

1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
pinch of saffron threads

  1. Heat oil in large soup pot. Add onion and saute over medium heat until soft. Add carrots, zucchini, and garlic. Saute for another 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add vegetable broth, tomatoes, quinoa, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for  20 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, stir, and cover. Simmer for another 30 minutes. As with all soups, the longer you let the soup simmer and set, the more flavor the soup will develop.
Amanda Gilmore
Contributing Writer

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