Pass the Quinoa, Please!

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grains and red peppersIf eating healthier is a goal for the new year, why not try a “super grain” ? Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is the perfect super gain to include in a healthy diet. It is often used as a substitute for rice because it has fewer calories and carbohydrates than white rice. It also has twice the protein of white rice. Quinoa’s versatility and ease of preparation make it the perfect side dish for a healthier new year!

Quinoa originated in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. It has been a food staple there for a thousand years according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. In the Inca language, the term quinoa means “mother grain”.

Quinoa is an edible seed that is classified as a whole grain. It comes in different colors such as black, white, red, or a mix of all three.

Quinoa has several nutritional benefits. It is an excellent source of plant protein and fiber. This whole grain differs from many plant proteins because it is a complete protein. A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not make on their own. Researchers at Harvard University found that one cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. This is great news for those living vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. Those restricted to a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or other medical concerns can enjoy quinoa, as it is gluten free. Because quinoa is a complete protein, high in fiber, and gluten free it also a healthier grain for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

If you are unfamiliar with cooking or eating quinoa, perhaps it is best to start with white variety. The lighter the color the milder the flavor. Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking rice. First, prepare the quinoa by rinsing it in a fine mesh strainer. The grains are coated with naturally occurring components that naturally exist called saponins. Saponins make the grain taste bitter. It is recommended to use 1 ¾ cups of water for every cup of quinoa. This ratio should prevent the quinoa from becoming too dry or too mushy. Once the water and quinoa are measured, combine in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil on medium heat. Then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to sit covered for 10 more minutes. Then remove lid and fluff with a fork. Note that when the quinoa is fully cooked, you may notice a little “white tail” form. This is the “germ” and is nutritious, as it is packed with vitamins.

To add more flavor and pizzaz to your quinoa during cooking you can add herbs such as marjoram, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, onion powder and salt. You can also add a dash of lemon or lime juice after it has cooked. Cooked quinoa is also very good cold tossed in fruit salads or fresh garden salads. For a nutty snack, you can also pop quinoa. Simply heat a pot that is at least 6-inches deep on medium heat. When the pot is hot add a thin layer of quinoa and cover. As the quinoa pops, shake the pot to ensure even heat and that it doesn’t burn. Occasionally, crack the lid briefly while popping to release any steam. When the quinoa is popped spread on a bakers sheet and season as desired.

If you have never tried quinoa, now is a great time to try a new dish for a new year! Quinoa can be found on the isle with the rice products in your local grocery store.