The Grain That Isn't a Grain

My inbox is crammed with information touting grains I couldn’t -until recently-pronounce or spell, let alone cook. The more I read, the more I’m convinced that given the available nutritional information, these “superfoods” shouldn’t be ignored. So listen up, and think “quinoa.”

Quinoa is a good place to start, in part because it’s fast becoming ubiquitous.  In “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” author Mark Bittman classifies it an “everyday grain,” even though quinoa is actually the seed of the goosefoot plant. I’m calling goosefoot a “plant,” but my trusty “American Heritage College Dictionary” refers to it as a “weed.” In truth, quinoa is more closely related to spinach and beets than it is to grains.

Lineage aside, quinoa is a member in good standing of a group of edibles commonly referred to as “pseudo cereals.” I’m separating the word into two parts because it makes it easier to understand that members of this group, while cooked and eaten like a grain, aren’t really grains.

Quinoa’a nutritional profile is similar to the nutritional profile of a grain. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of cooked protein, all of the essential amino acids your body needs, 222 calories, 39 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fat. It’s also gluten-free and non-GMO. And if you’re into classifications, it’s considered a whole-grain food.

In “Superfoods”(Quadrille Publishing, 2015)), author Julie Montagu writes, “Out of all the whole grains (in fact, it’s a seed), quinoa has the greatest nutritional resume. And it cooks the fastest of all the grains, too. But what’s so wonderful about quinoa is that it contains all eight amino acids, which makes it a complete protein.”

One of the things quinoa isn’t, according to what I’ve read, is “paleo,” despite its long history.  Native to the Andes, quinoa was so important to the Inca’s diet that they called it the “mother of all grains.” I guess even quinoa can’t have it all.

The following recipe is from “Dinner Illustrated,” one of the many excellent cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen.

Quinoa and Vegetable Stew

Serves 6 to 8

1 red bell pepper

1 onion

5 garlic cloves

1 pound red potatoes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

6 cups vegetable broth

2 tomatoes

1 cup prewashed quinoa

1 cup frozen corn

1 avocado

Fresh cilantro

4 ounces queso fresco

  1. Prep Vegetables: Stem and seed bell pepper, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop onion and mince garlic. Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces.
  2. Saute Aromatics and Bell Pepper:  Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add bell pepper, onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, cumin, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Cook Potatoes: Stir in broth and potatoes and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  4. Prep Tomatoes and Cook Quinoa: While potatoes simmer, core tomatoes and chop coarse. Stir in quinoa and simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in corn and simmer until potatoes and quinoa are just tender, 5-7 minutes.
  5. Prep Toppings: While quinoa cooks, halve avocado, remove pit, and dice. Mince 1/2 cup cilantro.
  6. Finish Soup: Stir in tomatoes and let heat through, about 2 minutes. Off heat, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, sprinkling individual serving bowls with avocado, cilantro and queso fresco.

Filed under: casual and healthy

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