Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday's Spotlight on Food- Quinoa

Every Saturday I am going to spotlight a food and discuss it's nutritional benefits, interesting facts about it and preparation and recipe ideas.  I hope to help everyone discover a new-found appreciation of pure, whole foods.  They are amazing!  Some weeks I will choose a food that most everyone is familiar with and other weeks I will spotlight a food that will be new to most readers.  I hope people will be inspired to add variety to their diet and try new foods.  

This week's spotlight is on quinoa.  I have just started eating quinoa and I love it!  

Quinoa is amazing!  The Incas held quinoa sacred and called it the "mother of all grains."  (Although, it is actually a seed, not a grain!)  Quinoa has a very high protein content (12-18%) and has the perfect balance of essential amino acids, making it a great source of plant protein!  Because quinoa is a complete protein, it makes a great base for a vegetarian dish.  Quinoa is also high in dietary fiber, magnesium and iron.  Quinoa is grown in South America, primarily in Peru and Bolivia.  

Quinoa is light and fluffy like couscous and tastes a little nutty.  It can take on a variety of flavors, depending on how you season it.  

Quinoa is SO easy to prepare.  It can be cooked in a rice cooker, which is the method I use since it is very easy, or cooked on the stovetop.  For either method, for every one cup of quinoa add two cups of water (or  broth for extra nutrition).  If cooking on the stove top, bring the quinoa and water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 14-18 minutes.  You will know it is done when the germ separates from the seed.  (The germ looks like a little curl.) You don't want to overcook it or it will turn to mush.  It should be al dente.  Try substituting quinoa for rice in some of your favorite recipes.  

I recommend buying quinoa from the bulk section at Whole Foods or from Costco.  At Costco you can get a 4 lb. bag, organic for $10, I think.  Not positive on the price, but I can tell you for sure if you want to know.  I definitely remember that it was a LOT cheaper than the price at a regular grocery store.  I also remember the price at Whole Foods being decent.   

Here is a simple, basic recipe for quinoa:  
(I have to guess on the quantities because I don't really measure my spices.  Adjust quantities to taste!)
2 cups quinoa
4 cups broth or water
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/4-1/2 onion, minced (depending on the size of the onion)
1 bay leaf
1/2  tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine all ingredients in a rice cooker and turn on.  In about 15 minutes your quinoa will be done!  If cooking on the stove, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low and simmer covered for about 15 minutes, or until the germ separates.   After it is cooked, you can add a little bit of olive oil, but use sparingly, as raw olive oil is really strong!  Raw olive oil is very good for you, so I suggest at least trying this to see if you like it.

If you are going to be using quinoa similar to the way that you use white rice in a recipe, I would not go crazy with the seasonings.

Here is a picture of what I made this afternoon with quinoa:

Note the germ (the little curls).
This turned out REALLY good until I ruined it!  After it was done and tasted fabulous, I left it in the rice cooker and the quinoa turned to mush, so my suggestion is that when it is at the perfect consistency, remove it from the heat!!!  The tomatoes and spinach were also a much better consistency before I overcooked this.  :(

I made this recipe up from what I had on hand.  One thing I have learned is that you don't have to follow recipes!  Follow your instincts and I am sure that you will be able to create some fabulous dishes.  

Winter Warmth Quinoa and Lentils:
1 cup quinoa
1 cup Lentils
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (use fresh garlic if on hand, I was out)
1/2 tsp. onion powder (again, use fresh if you have on hand, I was out)
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1 bay leaf
2 heaping tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 heaping tsp. basil
4 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 handfuls of spinach
Salt and pepper to taste (needs a decent amount of salt, but I didn't measure how much so I'm afraid to give a quantity and have it turn out too salty.  Be sure and add enough salt.  It really brings out the flavors.)

Combine the quinoa, water and seasonings.  Cook (following cooking directions above) for about 3-5 minutes and then add the tomatoes and spinach.  Cook for the remainder of the time.  Note:  The tomatoes should be the consistency of stewed tomatoes.  If you add them too early, they will disintegrate.  If added too late, they will be too raw.  You might have to play around to find out the best time to add them.  Either way they will taste good so don't stress it too much.

This is a VERY easy meal to prepare and cook, you will also have very little mess to clean up and best of all, it is SUPER nutritious!!!  The cumin adds a nice warmth so this is perfect for a cold, winter day!


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