There are a bunch of foods that I have encountered since becoming whole foods plant-based that I had tried before. I had never had kale or mustard greens, quinoa or adzuki beans. I had seen some of these things at the market before, but had no idea what to do with them or even if I would like them. I had never tried quinoa until about a year ago when I saw a recipe that I really wanted to try that included it. The little grain-like seed with the funny name has been growing in popularity and making it’s way into kitchens all over the country. Now I love quinoa and I use this versatile food for all kinds of recipes. If you have never heard of it or have a box or bag of it sitting in your cupboard, not quite sure what to do with it, then this is for you!
The quinoa plant is related to leafy greens like spinach. It is a good source of magnesium and fiber plus it is gluten-free. It comes in several varieties including black, red and white. You may also see some tri-color blends available in the bulk section of some markets. The colored varieties tend to be a bit crunchier than the white. All can be used in the same way.
Often used in the same ways as rice, quinoa cooks in less than half the time. Before harvesting, the seeds have a saponin coating that is bitter to taste. It is important to rinse quinoa before cooking it. I use a fine mesh colander and warm water to rinse the quinoa thoroughly for several minutes. After rinsing, cooking quinoa is easy, 2 cups liquid to one cup quinoa. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes on low heat until the germ separates from the seed – forming a curly tail. You can also germinate the quinoa raw in about 4 hours in cold water. Or use your rice cooker on the white rice setting.
Quinoa naturally has a slightly nutty flavor and a a fluffy texture after cooking. You can have it for breakfast with fruit, as part of a flavorful salad or as a side dish. It’s also good hot or cold. You can use plain water to cook your quinoa or you can try some creative alternatives to add subtle flavors to your dish. Using vegetable broth instead of water makes a richer more flavorful dish. One of my favorite breakfast dishes uses quinoa cooked with a roobios chai tea bag. The chai spices and naturally decaffeinated red tea adds a light chai flavor to to plain quinoa. Add some sliced bananas, walnuts and a splash of almond milk for a great breakfast.
One of the other attributes of quinoa that I like is that it keeps well. Cooked quinoa will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. I often make a large batch of it to divide up for different uses. I use quinoa in the canning jar lunches that I pack for my husband’s lunch. I layer a pint sized wide mouth canning jar with equal parts: quinoa, beans and kale. It makes a great binder when making homemade veggie burgers or add a cup to a pot of tomato soup for an interesting twist.
Most quinoa is imported and can be pricey at times. Check warehouse stores for big bags. I recently found a 2.5 pound bag for just under $10. Or look in the bulk section of your market and check online for places that have health foods in bulk for the best deals.
I am including some links to my favorite quinoa recipes below.
By Ami Mackey
What is your favorite quinoa recipe?