Quinoa is getting there. It used to be the eccentric cousin at the grain party, but now you can find it in almost any grocery store, usually by the wild rice. You might avoid it—it’s tiny and circular, looks like birdseed, you can’t pronounce the name, so you get the rice medley instead. Don’t pass quinoa by—it’s really good, and good for you, too!
First off, the pronunciation; it’s keen-wah. Not queen-you-ah, or quin-oh-ah. Keen-wah. I don’t know who named it. They didn’t consult me. Go figure.
Second, the nutrition. Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s a complete protein, which is rare for a grain (we’ll talk about that next…), and also has high amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. It contains manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, fiber, folate and zinc. Research has shown that rats fed quinoa daily had lower levels of inflammation and fat in the linings of their intestines.
Third, the facts. It’s actually a seed, not a grain. It’s in the same family as Swiss chard and beets (but it doesn’t taste like beets, don’t worry). This could explain why it’s a complete protein, which is so unusual for a grain; it isn’t one. As far as seeds go, I think they’re pretty full of protein. It’s known as the “mother grain” in Bolivia. And it’s as easy to cook as white rice.
Fourth, the gluten. There isn’t any. For people who are looking for gluten-free foods, quinoa provides a super healthy option. Since it’s so healthy and fiber-rich, it’s not just another low-fiber replacement for a glutinous food—it’s simply a gluten-free food that’s nutritious and delicious.
I’ve toyed around with quinoa recipes for a while. Basically, my family doesn’t love the flavor of quinoa plain, so I can’t just cook up a batch like I would rice. I tried a quinoa dish somewhere and loved it. It was mixed with a variety of cooked vegetables. I had that in mind as I tried to think of something to do with the plethora of sweet potatoes currently residing in my cabinet. We were bringing the sweet potatoes to Thanksgiving, and they were on sale. Need I say more?
I perused my other vegetables, and decided that parsnip and white onion would add the proper sweetness and zip. I heated olive oil and added the vegetables, letting them cook until they were tender. Then I added the quinoa and water and cooked it. It was great! We ate it as a side dish, but since quinoa is a complete protein, and this recipe has vegetables, it could be a complete meal on its own. You could add some nice leafy greens to balance out the color scheme, and you’d be set to go.
I used white quinoa, because that’s what I had home. But this recipe would look attractive with red or black quinoa, or even the tri-color. They all taste the same, and have very similar nutritional profiles.
When you see recipes for quinoa, they often say that you have to rinse it, because there’s a bitter coating (saponin). I’ve rinsed it many times, and even though I use a fine mesh sieve, lots of those slippery little quinoas escape down my sink. When I rinse it I think the water ratio ends up funky. I also personally haven’t found it to be more bitter without the rinsing. I’m not a chef, however, and if you’re a purist you’re probably raising your eyebrows at me. I don’t rinse it. I just scoop out my quinoa, and pour it into the pot with the water. That’s my opinion on the subject. You can rinse it if you choose.
As an added bonus, the leftovers are delicious. They’re great heated up for breakfast with an over-easy egg on top, or for lunch with some nicely wilted greens. You could also eat it cold, like a salad, with some black beans, tomatoes, celery, green onions, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Don’t pass the quinoa. Give it a try. You’ll be happy that you did!
Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 Sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped small
1 Large white onion, chopped small
1-2 Parsnips, peeled and chopped small
Salt and pepper
2 Cups quinoa
4 Cups water
Heat oil in medium skillet. Add sweet potato, onion, parsnip, and a dash of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, approximately 7 – 10 minutes. Add quinoa and water, and cook until done, 15 minutes.
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