Cupboard Essentials Part Two: Quinoa

Quinoa is one of  my favorite foods.   I consider it to be an essential for any  vegetarian or vegan kitchen due to its high protein content, and an amazing  staple for any kitchen due to its versatility and incredible nutritional content.  Pronounced “KEEN-wah” it is a staple grain widely used in South America and has reputedly been used by some cultures going back as far as 5,000 years ago.

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, being secondary only to the potato. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its  protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike other grains (like wheat or rice) it has a balanced structure of amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods.  It is also a good source of fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron.   

Quinoa is a gluten-free food that is considered to be easy on the digestive system.

Quinoa grains range in color from ivory to pinks, brown to reds, or almost black depending on the variety. There are over 120 species of the plant but only three main varieties are cultivated; one producing very pale seeds, called the white or sweet variety; a dark red variety called red quinoa; and a black quinoa. The seeds are similar in size to millet but are flat with a pointed oval shape and look like a cross between a sesame seed and millet. Quinoa has a delightful, unique characteristic: as it cooks, the outer germ around each grain twists outward forming a little white, spiral tail, which is attached to the kernel. The grain itself is soft and delicate and the tail is crunchy which creates and interesting texture combination and pleasant “crunch” when eating the grain. Quinoa has a fluffy consistency and a mild, delicate, slightly nutty flavor. If you find it boring just liven it up with spices, garlic and flavorful sauces. 

I buy my quinoa at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.  A box sells for anywhere from $3-5 and I find that its cheaper in bulk.   Often I’ll cook just the white, but I love mixing together the different colors.  I often use it in place of rice as  side dish, but many times I’ll eat it as a main dish.  For dinner tonight I had a big bowl of white quinoa with steamed broccoli and kale.  With a bit of olive oil and sea salt it was a perfect and delicious meal – light, but fulfilling.  I make a great tabouli with it as it also works as a great replacement for couscous.   It’s wonderful as both a base or addition to salads and amazing in soups. Come winter I will share a great recipe for quinoa vegetable soup with you. 

How to Make It

Cooking quinoa is similar to making rice.  Use a 2 to 1 ratio of liquid to quinoa.  Bring to a boil.  Turn heat down and cover.  Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with fork. 

I use a rice cooker for mine, often throwing some veggies and a little extra water in there for the last 15 minutes or so to cook them lightly.  Turns out beautifully every time.

How to Use It

Use as a main dish or side dish.  Can replace rice, couscous or pasta in many recipes.

Recipes and Links

http://vegweb.com/index.php?board=396.0

http://www.quinoa.net/181.html

http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/vegetarian-recipes/basic-quinoa.php

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