Let me relieve you…it’s pronounced “KEEN-wah” not “ki-NO-uh.” Don’t you feel better now? No more uncomfortable converstation about this superfood. No more referring to it as, “You know that food, quinoa, or however you say it…” As it usually happens, you will see this word everywhere this week simply because I pointed it out. You’re welcome.
Now that you can properly pronounce the word, do you know what Quinoa is? To be honest, it’s just been within the past 2 years that I’ve actually cooked with “unusual” grains. By “unusual”, I mean products other than rice. Steel cut oats, various rices, flax meal…that pretty much sums up my experience with such grains. Little did I know, quinoa isn’t actually a true grain, but a member of the grass family. The quinoa you and I eat are the seeds of this plant (the leaves are ediable as well, though difficult to find.) After harvest, the seeds are gathered and processed to remove the hard outer shell, which is very bitter tasting. Quinoa is cooked similar to rice, and many times, can replace rice in a dish.
Quechua, the Spanish spelling of quinoa, originated in the Andean regions of Equador, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru. Archeological evidence shows quinoa has been around for 5,000 to 7,000 years, with being domesticated for 3,000 to 4,000 years. I am a food history lover, especially when it has ceremonial meaning. For instance,
Quinoa has been an important staple in the Andean cultures where the plant is indigenous but relatively obscure in the rest of the world. The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or “mother of all grains”, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using “golden implements”. During the Spanish conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as “food for Indians”, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous religious ceremonies.In fact, the conquistadores forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.
See? Who needs genetically modified corn to feed the world? All we need to do is supply our farmers with “golden implements” with which they can plant their first seeds of the season. Who knew? The Incas, that’s who.
What about nutrition? If the Andean people were living on quinoa, it HAS to be good for you. Here is just some of the healthy goodness that quinoa can offer:
- NOT a commonly allergenic food
- Anti-inflammatory properties due to significant amounts of the Vitamin E family
- High in antioxident phytonutrients (can be higher levels than cranberries)
- Valuable amounts of heart healthy fats – Omega-3 and ALA
- A complete protein source, unlike many other “grains”
- Twice the amount of calcium as in whole wheat
- Research showing daily intake of quinoa is resulting in lower levels of inflammation in fat and linings of intestines
And since the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa,” I’m going to teach you how to cook it and give you a recipe to try. If you are wondering what quinoa tastes like, it pretty much has no flavor. The seeds will take on the flavor of whatever “dressing” you use. Texture? It has a snappy texture similar to a brown rice. If you want to start low-key, try just adding it in to other foods that you like. Throw some in your salad or mix with rice in a stir fry. As you get bolder, let it stand on it’s own. For instance, this is my most commonly made dish: Tomato and Black Bean Quinoa Salad. It’s delicious, especially if you are a fan of Mexican flare. I recently topped it with fajita chicken, peppers and onions. If these flavors aren’t your thing, the recipe is a good launchpad for creativity. How about trying it with orange instead of lime and add candied pecans, dried cranberries and a hint of mint? Sounds good to me!
In past conversations, it seems the biggest concern I notice is people don’t know how to cook quinoa. It’s really not hard! The only thing you need to have is a metal, fine mesh strainer. Other than that, it’s like cooking rice. However, don’t just boil. The steaming is where it’s at.
1) Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve each time.
2) Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in fine mesh sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don’t worry if lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes.
What are waiting for? Go get your quinoa on and start superfooding today!