Monday, January 26, 2009

Cooking with Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain (technically, a seed) that I think is full of character and texture, which makes it an easy substitute for other grains (rice, bulgar, barley, millet). It actually pops a bit in your mouth as you chew it, which I really enjoy. The taste is nuttier than most rice, but still quite subtle. I tend to cook it in stock rather than water, just to give it a little more depth of flavor. For visual interest, I tend to combine the red and white varieties of quinoa.

As my daughter pointed out, quinoa is a lot like Moroccan cous-cous (the small variety) in its shape and appearance, so kids who like rice and cous-cous will likely go for quinoa, as well. My husband, on the other hand, is not a big fan. He's an old dog, set in his ways, I guess. So, for his sake, I don't cook it as regularly as I would like. I'm still hopeful to convert him.

In addition to quinoa's use as an easy side dish, it can also be used in its whole form to make hot breakfast cereals and salads. Cold quinoa, combined with some peppers, olives, and raw zucchini could make a nice summer picnic salad. Or toss it with garbanzo beans, tomatoes, cucumber, crumbled feta cheese, and a little parsley for a Mediterranean side dish. Make it warm with cut green beans and some chopped, toasted hazelnuts.

There are also quinoa products that are easy to find in most healthfood stores, including quinoa pasta, which has the advantage of being gluten-free (wheat pastas are not), and quinoa flour, which can be used in baking recipes.

Of course, the main reason so many people are starting to eat quinoa these days is that it's a bit of a super food. It is a very high source of vegan protein, and it contains high amounts of a number of essential minerals. It is said to be particularly good for maintaining cardiovascular health. Although grains (and again, this is not really a grain) are mostly consumed as a source of energy, quinoa delivers so much more.

This is the basic, super-easy way to prepare quinoa:

1 c. quinoa
2 c. water or stock
generous amount of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until water or stock is absorbed. Fluff and serve.

No comments: