I have a new favorite thing. And, amazingly enough, it’s not covered in chocolate, it doesn’t have more fat grams than I need in one day, and… wait for it… it’s good for me. Crazy, I know. It’s quinoa.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), though new to many of us, has been around since pre-Columbian civilizations. Because of its amazing nutritional properties and its ability to survive in even the harshest of environments, the Incas considered it so sacred that they referred to it as chisaya mama – mother of all grains. It’s been classified as a “super crop” by the United Nations because of its high protein content. In fact, quinoa is what’s considered a complete protein, meaning that it has all nine essential amino acids. It’s also an excellent source of lysine, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorous. Oh, and it’s an excellent source of dietary fiber. Want more? It’s gluten free and it’s easily digestible. See? It’s amazing.
There’s just one thing about this mother of all grains… it’s not actually a grain. Though it can be used in most any application that you would normally use a grain like rice or couscous, it’s actually the seed of a plant called chenopodium quinoa and is related to beets, spinach, and chard.
Grain or not, I love this little super food. Its nutty and earthy, crunchy and chewy, and is just so much more fun than plain old rice. Add to it that it’s actually better for me too? Quinoa was an easy sell.
We started small with the Quinoa Encrusted Salmon last week. Bolstered by the success of that, I was ready to tackle something bigger. So, I cooked up a batch of quinoa with the intent to use it in whatever sounded good over the course of a few days. I was not disappointed. We used it in a stir-fry with shrimp and veggies. We ate it in conjunction with a stew which I’ll post about later this week. And, this morning, I had it for breakfast. I think I may be in love.
First… let’s talk about how to cook quinoa. It’s dead easy and pretty quick.
In a medium (3-4 quart) pan over high heat, bring 3 cups water to a boil. In a strainer, rinse 1 1/2 cups quinoa under running water and drain thoroughly (this ensures you remove any remaining saponins which can make your quinoa bitter). Add quinoa and 1/4 teaspoon salt to pan with boiling water. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender to bite, 20 to 25 minutes. (Makes 5 cups or about 4 servings.)
We kept (and will continue to keep) the cooked quinoa, covered, in the refrigerator for easy meals. Case in point… breakfast.
Susan and K both mentioned that they enjoy quinoa for breakfast – something I hadn’t even considered. Turns out that it’s quite popular in that application as well and I was excited to discover yet another way to enjoy my new favorite thing. And enjoy I did…
Warm Quinoa Breakfast Cereal
1 cup prepared quinoa
1/2-3/4 cup skim milk (depending on the consistency you like)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup toasted almonds
Place prepared or leftover quinoa in a sauce pan. Add milk, butter, honey, cinnamon and raisins. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the cereal thickens slightly. Garnish with nuts and an additional drizzle of honey if you like. Makes one very hearty serving or two more modest ones.
You can also cook the quinoa IN milk, but I don’t find there’s much of a diffeence and using the prepared quinoa fits better into my morning routine. And you can vary your fruits (think peaches, apples, blueberries) and your toppings (pecans, sunflower seeds). I don’t foresee myself getting bored with this one for a while… if ever!