Cooking with Quinoa: The Healthiest, Tastiest Grain on the Culinary Block
By Olivia Tacelli
If you're not already familiar with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), you'll soon be incorporating its nutty taste and silky, mildly crunchy texture into your most creative cooking. Originally grown 5,000 years ago in the Andean Mountains in South America, the Incas considered it their "mother seed" and fed it to their warriors for endurance. Relatively unknown in the United States until the 1980s, quinoa can now be found in most health food stores.
Commonly referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. Unlike most grains, it's a complete protein because it contains all nine amino acids. This fact plus its high content of fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus has earned it the title of "super grain". As a relative of Swiss chard, spinach and beets, you can also eat the leaves of quinoa but they're hard to find in stores. You'll see yellow quinoa the most, but pink, red, purple, orange, and black varieties do exist as well.
Most health food stores sell quinoa in bulk so you can buy as little or as much as you want but keep in mind that it does expand quite a bit when it's cooked. Store it in a moisture-free airtight container and extend its shelf life from 3 to 6 months by keeping it refrigerated.
Cooking with Quinoa
Quinoa is most commonly prepared like rice. First wash it well to remove bitter-tasting saponins. Take one cup of rinsed seeds and put them in a saucepan with 2 cups of water or stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cover. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Cooking quinoa reveals the beautiful spiral-shaped germ. For a nuttier taste, dry toast the seeds (after rinsing them) in a skillet over medium-low heat until they release a nutty smell.
Suggestions for the Chef Discovering Quinoa
Quinoa is very versatile. It works well with savory and sweet flavors and appeals to the down-to-earth as well as the gourmet chef. Serve it simply for a side dish; with beans, meat, poultry, seafood, nuts or cheese for a hearty entree; or as an nutrient-rich addition to baked goods. You can:
- Serve it hot with a pat of butter or a drizzle of your favorite oil such as toasted sesame or walnut
- Turn it into a stuffing or pilaf with sauteed onions, mushrooms, leeks, garlic, and/or red peppers
- Use it cooled in a salad with diced vegetables, fresh herbs, dried fruit, and/or toasted nuts and a rice vinegar or citrus based dressing
- Use it ground as a flour in cookies and muffins and in combination with high-gluten flours in breads
- Make it into a breakfast cereal by adding dried fruit, milk, sweet spices, and your favorite sweetener
- Put it in soups, stews, and chillies
- Put sprouted quinoa in a salad or sandwich
Jazz Up Your Usual Recipes
You can try cooking with quinoa in any recipe in which you'd normally use rice, barley, millet, cous cous, orzo or buckwheat.
About the Author
Olivia Tacelli is a freelance writer specializing in all things culinary. She has been a chef and caterer for 18 years, and has run her own whole foods cooking business, The Olive Tree, for 8 years.