Quinoa, is probably one of the most versatile and nutritious foods you will ever encounter. Versatile because it can adapt to almost any international recipe profile (just wait until you see the quinoa “good eats” I have for you to try). Nutritious because it packs a mean nourishment wallop of food label “high flyers”. You’ll note it comes in a variety of colors: tan, black, red or tricolor:
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) looks like, cooks like, and tastes like a grain, but don’t be fooled! It actually is a pseudocereal because it’s the seed of broadleaf plant, related to Swiss Chard, beets and spinach. True grains are seeds of grasses.
History– Quinoa was first cultivated 3000 years ago, high in the Andean Mountains located along the western coast of South America by the Andean people. The Incas worshipped quinoa, calling it both the “mother grain” and the “gold of the Incas”. “Mother grain” because it was the diet staple of the Incas and “gold of the Incas” because the warriors believed they derived their strength, valor and resistance from it. Quinoa thrives in the harsh environment of the Andean Mountain range to this day, surviving nightly frosts, daytime temperatures above 104 F degrees and high altitudes of greater than 2 miles above sea level. Peruvian and Bolivian farmers are now cashing in on the “quinoa boon” (the price has tripled since 2006) for there is currently an insatiable demand all over the world for the little “seed”.
Nutrition– There is a reason that quinoa is truly sought after all over the world, besides the fact that it can take a “ho-hum” meal to the level of “greatness”. Quinoa truly has an exemplary nutrition portfolio. Let me count the quinoa nutrition ways to you:
- The fiber and protein punch, compared to white and brown rice, will fill you up faster thus helping you push away from the dinner table quicker.
- Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, which is a true rarity in the plant kingdom. Remember you need all nine essential amino acids in your diet because your body can’t make them. Without these crucial ingredients in your diet, proteins breakdown, causing muscle loss, a compromised immune system and tissue repair and that’s just the tip of the protein function iceberg!!!
- Quinoa, along with buckwheat and amaranth, are gluten-free and easy to digest. In fact, I’m going to brag on quinoa here, NASA has chosen the little “seed” as a poster food for it’s “Controlled Life Support System”. Long story short, those are long duration manned flights in space which will have quinoa in it’s cargo to feed the astronauts!
For more on the general nutrition benefits of all ancient grains, go ahead and check out “Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains.”
1) Rinsing is a must!-If you don’t go through the process of rinsing off any other ancient grains, please make quinoa the exception. Quinoa has bitter saponins that coat the seeds, leaving you taste the bitterness even after the preparation. Just give it a rinse, in a fine sieve, with a gentle water stream or the seeds will fall through:
2) Do not presoak!-Those bitter saponins coating the quinoa can leach into the seeds with presoaking, leaving you with a bitter aftertaste. Quinoa thankfully, also has a relatively short cooking time.
3) Simmering is where it’s at for quinoa!-
There are three general methods for cooking grains:
a.) Simmering-Bring liquid and grain to a boil and simmer with a cover.
b.) Pilaf– This method is akin to braising. Coat the grain with a heated fat and onion mixture then add broth and finish the product in the oven.
c.) Risotto-This is a combination of both simmering and pilaf methods.
Simmering quinoa is really the only option since it has a very gelatinous consistency after cooking, just like it’s cousin, amaranth (See: Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains-AMARANTH).
4) Other Quinoa Tips:
- Try simmering quinoa in a low sodium broth or ½ broth and ½ water. The broth gives the grain a nice flavor boost!
- Liquid to Grain Ratio is about 2 parts liquid to 1 part grain.
- No need to rinse after simmering. All of the liquid should be absorbed in the grain. As you can see after simmering, quinoa absorbs all of that liquid by expanding to 4 times it’s original volume!
Do you notice the cute little “fishing line” that surrounds each quinoa seed after cooking? That comes directly out of the germ of the seed, giving the simmered quinoa a nice little finishing “chew”.
4. Quinoa can easily be subbed in for rice in any of your recipes, BUT:
5) Quinoa Caution-Don’t try to add hot quinoa to a mixed hot dish, like “Quinoa Shrimp Fried Rice” I’ve outlined below. Because the little seed has a gelatinous consistency, your entire dish will take on a gloppy, gelatin-like viscosity. For a mixed hot dish, prepare the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate it. When prep time comes, just reheat the quinoa with the dish!
Menu Idea & Recipe- The menu that follows has been an absolutely amazing addition to our family of menu ideas. I say this for two reasons: You can whip this up in absolutely no time at all (just make sure you have some quinoa prepared and refrigerated ahead of time) AND it tastes just like the finest Chinese “fried rice” carry-out dinner you’ve ever had, only quinoa, not rice, is the star of the dish.
QUINOA SHRIMP FRIED RICE
Servings: 4-6 servings
1 T olive oil
**1 lb. raw shelled and deveined shrimp
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 stalk green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
½ cup frozen peas
2 cups cooked, chilled quinoa (about ½ cup raw)
1 ½ tsp. reduced salt soy sauce
1 tsp. fish sauce
freshly ground pepper
Cashews for garnish
- Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat. When hot, swirl in the oil. Add in the eggs and scramble for 15 seconds. Once the eggs have just set, remove the eggs to a clean plate or bowl.
- Return wok to stove. Add in the shrimp and cook until no longer pink, and put to the side.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add sesame oil and more olive oil if necessary. Add in green onion, ginger and garlic. Stir fry about 30 seconds until fragrant. Mix in the chicken.
- Add in the cooked eggs, frozen peas and quinoa. Toss and stir fry for 2 minutes, spreading everything out over the surface of the wok.
- Pour in soy sauce, fish sauce and add in the black pepper. Toss again and stir fry for an additional minutes. Taste and add in additional soy sauce or fish sauce if needed.
- Garnish with some cashews for that extra little “crunch”.
**Substitutions-You can easily substitute 1 raw chicken breast cut into cubes instead.
*Recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen, Inc.
Now its your turn…….
My goal is to serve you with doable, healthy information and recipes. So please feel free to tell me what you think about this dish and info (good or bad) or what you would like to see me post in the future.