Ever since I mentioned quinoa when I wrote about gluten free breakfasts, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to cook it and what is it exactly, anyway. Preparing quinoa is easy- if you can cook rice, you can cook quinoa. I go into the preparation on that post. It’s what to do with it after cooking that seems to be problem.
Try to think of it as a kind of supercharged oatmeal, and then you can go from there. What do you like on your oatmeal? I like to put cinnamon, chopped walnuts and sliced bananas, topped off with enough milk to make it thinner. Well, turns out that works great for quinoa too. Ok, but how about lunch or supper? Try these ideas:
-Cook your quinoa with a cup of vegetable broth added to the water, it makes a nice addition to a salad. Toss it in with some fresh cilantro, a dash of lemon juice and your favorite leafy greens.
-Use it to make tabbouleh. Substitute quinoa for bulghar cup for cup.
- Shrimp and Vegetables with Quinoa. Saute shrimp with garlic and onion. Add diced tomato and fresh basil. Serve over quinoa cooked in chicken broth.
- Curried Quinoa- cook up your favorite curry dish, substitute quinoa for rice.
- Mexican Bean-Quinoa Salad: Add chopped cilantro, lime juice, garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes and jalapeno peppers to cooked quinoa. Toss with olive oils and cover with avocado slices.
Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain like wheat or rye. It is referred to as a grain for food use, since it is prepared and eaten similar to grains. After cooking, it looks a bit like couscous, with a slightly stronger, earthy taste.
Quinoa (pronounced Kee-no-ah) comes from a plant that was first domesticated in the Andean highland areas of what are now Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Columbia, 3000-4000 years ago. Unfortunately, the recent popularity of the grain in developed countries has made the food too expensive for many in the country where it is grown, Bolivia.
Prices of quinoa have tripled over the past 5 years, and although farmers are reaping the benefits in the form of larger cash crops, “there are causes for concern. While malnutrition on a national level has fallen over the past few years thanks to aggressive social welfare programs, Ms. Cabrerizo, the nutritionist, said studies showed that chronic malnutrition in children had climbed in quinoa-growing areas, including Salinas de Garcí Mendoza, in recent years.” (Read the complete article at the NY Times)
Why all the fuss over this once obscure food? Quinoa is high in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron and contains the essential amino acids tryptophan, isoleucine, lysine, valine, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine and leucine. Ounce for ounce, it packs more nutritional value than rice, oats or barley.
The seeds need to be soaked before cooking to remove the bitter tasting and mildly toxic saponin compounds that coat the outer shell. Most Quinoa sold in North American has been processed to have the saponins already removed (The bitterness of the saponins act as a natural deterrent to birds, fungi, and insects during cultivation). Some people balk at eating something that possibly may contain a toxin, though, so they take the precaution of rinsing the seeds anyway.
In case you are concerned about any saponin remaining on the seed, place the quinoa into a sieve of very fine mesh such as the Oxo strainer, run cold tap water over the strainer and seeds, shaking slightly side to side. You’ll see the water below the sieve looking cloudy white at first. The cloudiness is most likely chaff or dust, not saponins. Just keep rinsing until the water below is running clear.
If you don’t have a mesh strainer handy, you can use cheesecloth (if you have that handy, anyway). For extra peace of mind for the food-anxious, you can soak the quinoa in cold water for 5-10 minutes before rinsing.
Yes, you sure can. In fact, some people who’ve had trouble with the quinoa coming out mushy or too hard when cooking in a pot have discovered making it in a rice cooker yield perfect fluffy grains.
Rice cooker machines are a great way to make quinoa if you have one. Try 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water, and hit the “quick Cook” button. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes.
Also, try using 1 cup water, 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth. Experiment with adding chopped garlic or onion. Another idea is to combine with brown rice. Use ½ cup red quinoa and ½ cup short grain brown rice. If you don’t care for the taste of quinoa by itself, this will cure that.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Yes, quinoa grain contains no gluten. If you have a case of severe gluten intolerance, however, processed quinoa products should be used with care. Quinoa cereal flakes or flour could be cross-contaminated with wheat, barley or rye during processing, storage and packaging. Look for quinoa flakes and flour that is specifically labelled gluten-free.
Quinoa is also not a grain, but a seed. So if you are on a grain-free diet, feel free to include quinoa in it to satisfy your grain cravings.
What Does Quinoa Taste Like?
Yellow quinoa actually tastes pretty neutral to me, with a subtle earthy aftertaste. Think lentils, couscous or white rice. If you don’t rinse quinoa enough, there will be a bitter soapy taste from the saponins; this means you haven’t prepared them properly, and you should throw them out as the saponins are slightly toxic.
Red quinoa has a slightly stronger, nutty taste, a little bit like barley. Both types take on the flavors of whatever they are cooked or mixed in with. Try cooking in liquids other than plain water. Broths, coconut milk, almond milk, lemon or lime juice added to the water all make a big difference to the taste.
I find that most people who don’t like quinoa object more to the texture. It is not grain-like enough for them. It can take some getting used to, but keep an open mind and remember it is it’s own thing, don’t compare or expect it to be something else.
Red quinoa photo by jules:stonesoup, quinoa plant photo by borderlys / CreativeCommons