Quinoa (“keen-wah”) is a tiny spherical grain that breaks open during cooking to create a fluffy and somewhat sprouted, crunchy texture. This unique grain, often refereed to as a “protein powerhouse”, has been cultivated in the Andes of South America for thousands of years.
It’s no wonder how this grain has lasted in existence for quite so many years. Quinoa’s distinctive taste, appearance, and health benefits lends itself as a perfect side dish to almost any meal.
There are three main cultivated varieties of quinoa: white, red, and black quinoa. There are subtle differences between taste, but in general, all have a mild, slightly nutty flavor. As the quinoa cooks, the outer germ twists around inside the kernel to break through the grain’s outer shell, forming a white, spiral tail that give this grain its slightly crunchy texture. However, before cooking, make sure to rinse and drain the seeds to get rid of the bitter dusty residue called saponin that may remain on the kernels. Quinoa is pre-rinsed before packaged, but it’s best to repeat the rinse at home to ensure that you don’t end up with a bitter finished product.
Quinoa is full of nutrients. As mentioned before, the grain is known for its protein content. According to the United Nations, quinoa is considered to be one of the best sources of protein and amino acids. Per 1/2 cup, quinoa provides 12 grams of protein, or 22% DV. Not only does this tiny grain pack a huge punch of protein, but it’s also considered a “complete protein”, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa was frequently eaten by the Inca armies to keep the soldiers strong and healthy. It particularly contains a lot of the amino acid known as lysine, an essential component for tissue growth and repair.
In addition to supplying a form of complete protein, quinoa also provides a slew of other nutrients. It’s a particularly good source of iron, contain 40% DV per 1/2 cup. Quinoa is also high in manganese, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. Additionally, quinoa contains 6 grams of fiber (the component of food that makes you feel full) per 1/2 cup.
All these textures, flavors, and health benefits being thrown at you makes you want to go out and make some quinoa, right? That leads me to how one should prepare this wonder grain.
There are tons and tons of ways to utilize quinoa, such as in breakfast porridges, pilafs, soups, taboulis, etc.. I often just use it as a replacement for brown rice, making it as a side dish to compliment whatever else I am cooking up. Paired with a protein-rich entree, quinoa can turn your plate into a mega protein powerhouse. Here is the basic way to prepare quinoa: Rinse one cup of qunioa thoroughly and drain. Add the cup of quinoa plus 1 1/2 cups of water to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until all water has evaporated. Serves 4 people. I like to add a little extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper on top, or maybe some sauteed mushrooms or other veggies I have on hand. Make sure to make extra for the morning so you can heat it up with some raisins, milk, and a little maple syrup.