Great Grains: Discovering Quinoa.

Many many moons ago, I started a “series” on here called Great Grains – where I wanted to highlight different grains, talk about their benefits, varieties, uses, etc.  Sadly the series remained a post of one (on millet!) for far too long.  Luckily that changes now!

Discovering Quinoa – What is it?

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Quinoa is an amazing “grain” that is actually a pseudo-cereal.  But that sounds weird, so most people call it a grain.  It is shaped like small flat discs and comes in the traditional (yellow) grain, the nuttier red variety, and a very hard to find black quinoa! 

Many people don’t know that it is actually closer in relation to vegetables like Swiss chard and beets than it is to grains (like brown rice).  It is an ancient grain well known for originating in the Aztec and Incan cultures.  While dry quinoa can sometimes be mistaken for other grains, it is easy to identify when cooked because of the tiny tails that it sprouts. 

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Health Benefits

The reason quinoa is so popular among vegans and vegetarians is that it is one of the handful of vegetarian sources of complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine of the essential amino acids that we get from food.  It is also a great source of iron, magnesium, and many other important vitamins and nutrients.  Another great benefit to quinoa over some other whole grains is that it is gluten-free!

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How to Prepare Quinoa

The most important step when cooking quinoa, is actually the step you take before you cook it: rinsing.  Dry quinoa has a bitter, soapy residue so you need to rinse it in a sieve with small holes before cooking.  Just rinsing for a minute or two under cold water should do the trick.

On the stovetop, add 1 cup dry quinoa to 1.75 cups liquid, bring up to a simmer and cook covered for 15-20 minutes or until fluffy and tender.  The seeds will sprout tails, and you will know it is done!  Then season and serve on its own, or mixed together with beans, veggies, or tofu – the possibilities are endless with this versatile grain.

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Using Quinoa in Recipes

If you are looking for some fun way to use quinoa in recipes, here are a few of my personal favorites…

Quinoa & Bean Corn Chowder

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Apple Cinnamon Cranberry Quinoa

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Black Bean Cocoa Quinoa

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Three Grain Chewy Energy Bars

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Or Quinoa Tabouli!

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Or you can try my latest favorite way to prepare it…

One-Pot Quinoa & Greens

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(click to print this recipe!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa (red or yellow)
  • 1.75 cups water
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 pound cooking greens (turnip, collard, Swiss chard, etc.)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:  I make this dish at least twice a week in my rice cooker.  It is such a fast and easy way to make a balanced and complete meal with just the push of a button and only one dish to clean!  (You can also make it on the stovetop – just use a medium saucepan and cover to cook for 15-20 minutes.)

Add rinsed quinoa to the rice cooker bowl or saucepan.

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I LOVE this Southern Greens Blend of cooking greens from Trader Joe’s.  When you need something in a pinch, it is so nice to have greens that are already torn and washed.

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Add half the bag (or 1/2 pound of greens) to the pot – it will seem like a LOT, but I promise it will cook down.

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Pour in 1.75 cups water…

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And add a little coconut oil or other oil of your choice.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to season.

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If you cook this in the rice cooker, this is as easy as pressing GO (on the quick-cooking setting).  If you cook on the stovetop, simmer until the quinoa is tender underneath.

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When you open the lid you will see delicious, cooked greens on top!

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And find nutty, red quinoa all cooked and ready on the bottom.

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Adjust any additional seasoning as needed, and then serve and enjoy!

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If you haven’t tried quinoa already, I’d definitely suggest you give it a try the next time you head to the grocery store.  You can find it at most grocery stores, as well as specialty health food stores (and Trader Joe’s!).  This is definitely one delicious pseudo-cereal that you should have in your kitchen.