Looking for ways to integrate wholesome goodness into your diet? Quinoa is one of the fastest-cooking choices you can make, and it's chock-full of nutrients your body loves. We'll tell you all about this superfood, then offer great ways to integrate it into your plan to eat well.
Although quinoa (KEEN-wah) is often referred to as a grain, it is actually the seeds of a plant that is native to South America. Because of its high protein content, the food was referred to as the Mother Grain among the ancient Incas -- quinoa was a sustaining staple of their diet. Today, it remains a key player on the food scene in South America.
There are more than 1,500 varieties of quinoa seeds in many colors, but the most common variety is an ivory-color quinoa. You can find it at health-food stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
Tip: Many health-food stores sell quinoa in bulk, which allows you to buy the exact amount you need for a recipe or to stock up.
One reason quinoa gets lumped into the grains category is because, like a whole grain, it has some major health benefits. To name a few:
- Quinoa contains more protein than whole grains; more importantly, the mighty seed is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the amino acids that are key to good health.
- It is also a source of iron and magnesium, as well as fiber, which is good for digestive health. And it is a good source of lysine, which is an amino acid that boosts cellular repair and aids in the absorption of calcium.
- Quinoa is gluten-free and cholesterol-free.
How to Cook Quinoa
-Unlike brown rice and other nutrient-packed grains, you can enjoy healthful quinoa which is actually a seed in about 15 minutes. Here's how to cook quinoa. The first step is always to rinse the quinoa. This ensures any bitter outer coating is washed down the drain. Next, using a 2:1 water-to-quinoa ratio, add the quinoa to a saucepan. Here, I'm using two cups of water to one cup of quinoa. Bring this mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Leave the quinoa alone, letting it simmer for 15 minutes. Now, hopefully, you have clear lids for your saucepans because the way you know for sure that the quinoa is done is when it looks like it is popped open. Yup, just like popcorn. Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork and it's ready to add to any recipe.
Here are basic instructions for cooking four side-dish servings of quinoa (1-3/4 cups cooked quinoa). If you want to cook more, simply use the ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water, adjusting the amount of salt to taste and adjusting the pan size as needed. After cooking, be sure to drain off any water, if necessary.
1. Rinse the Quinoa
- Place 3/4 cup quinoa into a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse well under cool running water.
- Drain well and set the quinoa aside.
2. Cook the Quinoa
- In a medium saucepan bring 1-1/2 cups water to boiling. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired.
- Slowly add the rinsed quinoa to the water and return to boiling.
- Cover the pan and simmer about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender.
3. Drain (If Necessary) and Serve
- If water remains after the quinoa is done, place the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and allow the excess water to drain off.
- Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve.
Quinoa has a mild, slightly nutty flavor that's sometimes compared to couscous. As such, it plays nice with a variety of flavors -- and goes with just about anything. A few ideas:
- Serve as a Side Dish: Serve quinoa as you would couscous or rice. If desired, toss with a little butter or olive oil; add fresh herbs and/or sliced green onions, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss Into a Salad: Add torn lettuces and chopped raw vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, cucumbers, radishes, avocados, and shredded carrots. Toss with your favorite vinaigrette. For a heartier salad, add grilled or broiled shrimp, steak, or chicken.
- Stir Into a Soup: If your broth-base soup doesn't already contain noodles, rice, or another grain, add some cooked quinoa at the end of cooking time to make the soup more filling while boosting its nutrients. Add about 1 cup quinoa per six servings.
Tip: You can also add raw quinoa, rinsed well, to the soup during cooking time. It will need 15 to 20 minutes to become tender, so time the addition accordingly. Add about 1/2 cup raw quinoa per six main-dish servings.
- Quinoa for Breakfast: Hot cooked quinoa can be served like oatmeal for breakfast. Many recipes call on substituting milk for the water during cooking time. You can also combine equal parts cooked quinoa and cooked oatmeal for a filling, wholesome treat. Either way, doctor up the bowl of goodness as you would oatmeal, with touches like maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, fresh or dried fruits, and nuts.