If cooking with quinoa has you asking, “Quin-what?” now is a great time to get familiar with this healthy grain.
First of all, let’s start with its pronunciation: Quinoa is pronounced keen-wah,
If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s about to change. Quinoa’s popularity has been increasing by leaps and bounds in the past few years, due to its high nutritive value.
It’s been embraced by folks who don’t eat wheat, but also appeals vegetarians or those going meatless one day a week. It has a pleasant, almost nutty flavor that makes it an easy grain to work into a wide variety of dishes.
But this grain has power beyond the plate.
The Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations have declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa,” in part for its potential to contribute to the global fight against hunger and malnutrition.
The grain is native to the Andes mountains of South America and the UN recognized “the Andean indigenous peoples, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living well in harmony with mother earth and nature.”
If you’ve never tried it before, you’ll find that quinoa cooks more quickly than rice, and is packed with protein and fiber. For about the same calories as traditional long-grain white rice, a cup of quinoa has fewer carbohydrates, twice as much protein and five times as much fiber as rice. Quinoa bests brown rice for carbohydrates, protein and fiber too. It is more expensive than rice, but is easy to find in traditional grocery stores, as well as natural food and bulk stores.
Quinoa is also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids needed for our bodies to regenerate cells, one of a very short list of vegetable sources of complete proteins.
Dan McCoy, of McCoy’s Custom Catering in Akron, said: “I started using it about two years ago and nobody knew what it was. Within a year and a half, everybody knew about it and was taking literature on it.”
McCoy began using quinoa because he was trying to find healthy grains to cook with and wanted something beyond brown rice. He specializes in meals for business meetings, and is also a vendor at the Countryside Conservancy’s farmers markets, where many visitors have tried his variety of quinoa salads.
McCoy said the ease of quinoa is also another reason home cooks should check it out. Quinoa cooks in about 10 minutes, compared to the half hour or more needed to cook brown rice, making it a really fast side dish to go along with any entree.
It also works equally well hot or cold. Some folks cook it like oatmeal and eat it hot for breakfast. Cold, it is perfect to add protein to salads.
When cooking with quinoa for the first time, there are some things to keep in mind.
Cookbook author Judith Finlayson, in her new book The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook (Robert Rose 2013/$24.95 softcover), notes that quinoa is the seed of a plant related to the spinach family, which is able to survive in poor growing conditions: drought, high altitude and alkaline soil.
Quinoa comes in red and yellow varieties, both of which need a good rinse before cooking. “Quinoa grains are naturally coated with a saponin, a natural detergent found in many plants that has an unpleasant bitter taste. By the time you purchase it, most has been washed off, but a thorough rinsing before use is always a good idea,” Finlayson notes.
When you boil quinoa, you’ll know when it is done because the germ of the grain will become visible and you’ll see the small circles appear.
If you’ve never tried cooking with quinoa before, one of the easiest ways to start is to use it in combination with or as a substitute for rice or other grains in your favorite recipes.
Try it out in a simple pilaf, to get familiar with the grain and how it tastes.
McCoy said his quinoa tabbouleh is one of his most popular salads, but a basic cold salad with fresh vegetables and a simple lemon and oil dressing is also an easy start.
BASMATI RICE AND QUINOA PILAF
¾ cup quinoa
1½ cups cold water
2 tbsp. butter
2 carrots, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 cup basmati rice
2½ chicken broth, regular or low-sodium
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
¾ cup golden raisins
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste
Rinse quinoa well. Place quinoa and cold water in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 to 15 minutes until all water is absorbed, grain is soft and germ ring is visible. Set aside.
In a large skillet or pot over medium heat, melt butter, add carrots, onions and celery. Season with salt. Saute about 5 minutes until vegetables are soft. Add rice and stir until rice is coated with melted butter and outside of grain is starting to turn translucent. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed and rice grain is soft, about 20 minutes.
While rice is cooking, soak raisins in hot water for about 15 minutes to plump and soften. Drain. Place almonds in small, dry skillet, and heat over low until nuts begin to toast and release a toasted aroma, watching carefully not to over-brown. Cool.
When rice is done, mix quinoa into rice. Season with cinnamon and allspice, using more or less to your personal taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add raisins and almonds.
Makes eight servings.
— Lisa Abraham
1 cup quinoa
4 cups water
1 carrot, finely chopped
½ cup fresh sweet corn (about 1 ear)
½ red bell pepper, chopped fine
½ green bell pepper, chopped fine
½ bunch parsley, chopped, or about ½ cup chopped arugula
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. coriander
Rinse quinoa well. Bring water to a rolling boil. Add quinoa and cook for 12 to 15 minutes until the tiny germ ring of the grain is visible. Quinoa should still have slightly crunchy bite to it. Drain grain in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cool running tap water. Place strainer over bowl to drain and place in refrigerator to chill for several hours.
When ready to prepare, combine chilled quinoa with all remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Serve chilled.
Makes six servings.
— Daniel McCoy, McCoy’s Custom Catering
4 cups water
1 cup quinoa
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 to 2 fresh lemons
3 to 4 cloves garlic
Salt, to taste
½ English cucumber, finely diced
3 large plum tomatoes, diced
½ cup finely diced red onion
1 bunch parsley, leaves finely chopped, stems discarded
Rinse quinoa well. Bring water to a rolling boil. Add quinoa to water, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes until the tiny germ ring of the grain is visible. Strain in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cool running water to cool. Drain.
Place olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse for about 20 seconds until well combined. Pour dressing over cooled quinoa and mix. Add cucumber, tomato, onion and parsley, and mix well.
Makes six servings.
— Daniel McCoy, McCoy’s Custom Catering
PEPPERY CHICKEN QUINOA
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock, divided
1 tbsp. harissa, optional (see note)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring 2 cups of the stock to a boil. Stir in harissa, if using. Add quinoa in a steady stream, stirring constantly, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add black peppercorns and stir well. Add chicken and cook, stirring until it turns white and almost cooks through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to pan. Add garlic and cook, stirring, just until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add bell peppers and cook, stirring until they begin to shimmer, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup of stock and sherry vinegar and cook until mixture is reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Return chicken to pan and toss until heated through and completely cooked. Remove from heat.
To serve: Spread cooked quinoa over a deep platter and scoop out an indentation in the middle. Fill with chicken mixture and garnish with parsley.
Note: Harissa is a north African chili paste. If you don’t have it, you can substitute your favorite hot sauce or omit it.
Makes four servings.
— The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook, Judith Finlayson