Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is considered an “ancient grain” dating back to 3000 B.C. in the South American Andes. It is becoming increasingly popular today in the United States as the need for gluten-free grain options increase. While quinoa is indeed gluten-free, it is not a true “grain.” Quinoa is actually a “seed” from the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant and is relative to beets, spinach and Swiss chard. It falls under the category of “pseudo-grain” because of its cooking characteristics and because it is commonly used in place of rice or other similar grains. If the potential arsenic level in rice concerns you, quinoa is an excellent option to consider.
A perfect source of protein, quinoa offers all eight essential amino acids and is perfect for a vegan diet. It is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, riboflavin and fiber. Currently on the market, you can buy quinoa in three different colors – ivory, red or black. You can also purchase a trio-blend of the three colors which can offer a rich tapestry of color and texture to any dish.
Quinoa is easy to prepare and cooks quickly taking only about 15 minutes on the stovetop. It does need to be rinsed before preparation. Quinoa has a bitter tasting resin called saponin which is intended to protect the seeds from birds eating it. Using a fine mesh strainer will prevent any seed loss as you rinse the quinoa under cold water. Rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear. You can also soak quinoa overnight which will reduce the overall cooking time. Quinoa is cooked with a two to one ratio similar to rice – one cup quinoa to two cups water. Substituting fruit juice or broth for some of the water can add an interesting dimension of taste to the quinoa.
Quinoa can also be consumed as a breakfast cereal. Quinoa flakes which are used similar to rolled oats are quick and easy to prepare. A local company called Edison Grainery in Emeryville, California, offers packaged organic quinoa flakes. They also offer a quinoa bran which can be added to smoothies or hot cereals to increase protein and fiber. Quinoa flour can be added to a recipe to increase the overall protein content of a baked good.
Adding seasonal fruits and vegetables to quinoa recipes, like the one below, provide an array of interesting flavors and textures to your diet. Quinoa can be served warm as a side dish or tossed cold with fruits or vegetables to make a salad.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Quinoa
One small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite size chunks (approximately 24-30 oz.)
1 large granny smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite size chunks
1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 – 3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 – 2 tablespoons avocado oil (or other oil with a smoking point higher than 375 degrees)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon chili powder (gluten-free)
2 cups organic tri-color quinoa, cooked
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Toss prepared squash (or pumpkin), onions and garlic cloves with the oil and spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle salt and chili powder over the vegetable mixture.
Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes stirring the vegetables every ten minutes until the vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize around the edges.
While the vegetables are roasting, toast the pecan pieces in a dry pan until fragrant and then set aside. Cook quinoa according to the package directions rinsing the dry quinoa thoroughly before cooking.
When vegetables and quinoa are both finished, toss together with toasted pecans and the dried cranberries. Season to taste with salt and pepper.