Although quinoa (KEEN-wah) is often referred to as a grain, it is actually the seed of a native South American plant. Quinoa is high in protein and thus was a sustaining staple in the Incan 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 hues, but the most common variety is an ivory-color quinoa. You can find it at health-food stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
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 the pan size as needed.
1. Rinse the quinoa: Place 3/4 cup quinoa into a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse well under cool running water. Drain well and set 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, lower the heat to medium-low, 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, drain in a fine-mesh strainer. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve.
One reason quinoa gets lumped into the grains category is because, like a whole grain, it has some major health benefits. It's rich in complete protein, and it contains all of the amino acids that are key to good health. Quinoa is also a source of iron, magnesium, fiber, and lysine, which is an amino acid that boosts cellular repair and aids in the absorption of calcium. Plus, it's gluten- and cholesterol-free, making it a great choice for some special diets.
Quinoa has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and a texture that's sometimes compared to couscous. As such, it goes with just about anything. A few ideas for quinoa recipes:
Serve as a side: 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 quinoa salad recipe, add grilled or broiled shrimp, steak, or chicken.
Stir into soup: If your broth-base soup doesn't already contain noodles or another grain, add some cooked quinoa at the end of cooking time. Add about 1 cup cooked quinoa per six servings. Or add raw quinoa, rinsed well, to the soup during cooking. Allow 15 to 20 minutes for cooking and about 1/2 cup raw quinoa per six servings.
Serve for breakfast: Hot cooked quinoa can be served like oatmeal. You can also combine equal parts cooked quinoa and cooked oatmeal for a filling, wholesome quinoa recipe. Add touches like maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, fresh or dried fruits, and nuts to finish.