Why Quinoa is a Superfood to Love

Quinoa Pilaf

A few years ago, most people didn’t even know how to say quinoa (keen-wa).

But then it appeared in health food stores, and soon it was on the shelf of almost every supermarket.

So, what made this ancient grain suddenly get recognized?

Well, for one thing, it’s actually not a grain at all (which is good news for everyone trying to avoid grains these days). Quinoa is a seed that comes from a plant related to spinach and chard. It originated in the Andes, has been cultivated for over 5,000 years, and was prized by the Aztecs.

You can use it in place of brown rice, but unlike brown rice, Quinoa is a complete protein, and an excellent source of it. Just a half cup gives you 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber

Quinoa also provides many nutrients, including:

  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B6
  • Niacin
  • Thiamin
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Folic acid

Quinoa has a light, fluffy, and slightly crunchy texture, and a pleasing, mildly nutty flavor. It’s very quick to cook, taking only 20 minutes. (You can’t say that about most grains.)

The first thing you need to know about preparing quinoa is that rinsing it is particularly important. That’s because quinoa seeds naturally have a bitter, slightly soapy-tasting coating called saponin. In nature, this coating protects the seeds from birds, insects, and excessive sunlight. The quinoa you’ll buy at the store has had the saponin washed off, but there still can be just a little of it left.

So, wash quinoa just the way you do brown rice: by placing it in a fine strainer over a bowl and holding it under cold running water until the water runs clear. After washing it, I like to soak quinoa for 8 to 12 hours for the same reasons I soak rice. Soaked quinoa is more easily digestible, and any remaining bitter taste from its coating of saponin gets removed. After soaking, drain and rinse the quinoa and cook it in a saucepan or rice cooker.

You can make quinoa with just water and a pinch of salt. But the flavor is substantially enhanced if you include some vegetable broth. Personally, I like quinoa best when it’s cooked in a liquid that’s half water and half vegetable broth.

Once you have some delicious cooked quinoa, what do you do with it? Well, you can use it anywhere you might use brown rice.

Another delightful option is to turn quinoa into a fragrant pilaf—an ancient dish that food historians say was served to Alexander the Great.  Pilafs are most common in Middle-Eastern, Indian, and Latin American cuisines.

You make them by sautéing onion in a little olive oil and then adding a grain and cooking it in broth. You can add spices and a bit of dried fruit as well.

Quinoa Pilaf makes a flavorful side dish. If you serve it with another side of steamed vegetables and a dressed garden salad, you’ll have a meal that tastes gourmet but is very easy to prepare.

So, here’s how you prepare basic quinoa and a recipe for Quinoa Pilaf.

Basic Quinoa

Yield: 3 servings

1 cup quinoa, soaked 8 to 12 hours in water, drained, and rinsed
1 1/2 cups water, vegetable broth, or a mixture (see note)
pinch salt

Put the quinoa, water, and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. You can serve the quinoa right away, or let it stand, covered, for up to 30 minutes. Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, Basic Quinoa will keep for 3 days. You can freeze it for up to a month.

Notes about the recipe:

  1. If using unsoaked quinoa, increase the water to 1 3/4 cups.
  2. I recommend using 3/4 of water and 3/4 cup of vegetable broth (or 1 cup of water and 3/4 cup of vegetable broth for uncooked quinoa).
  3. To make this recipe in a rice cooker, just put all the ingredients in the cooker and turn it on; it will shut off automatically when the quinoa is done.

Quinoa Pilaf

Yield: 3 servings

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup quinoa, soaked 8 to 12 hours in water, drained, and rinsed
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable broth or water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons raisins (dark or golden) or currants

Put the olive oil in a medium saucepan, and warm over medium heat for a minute. Add the onions, and stir for 30 seconds. Add the curry powder and stir a few seconds longer. Add 1/4 cup of the water, cover, and let cook for 2 minutes. Add the quinoa, remaining 1/2 cup of water, vegetable broth, and salt. Cover, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Add the raisins, cover, and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, Quinoa Pilaf will keep for 3 days.

By Jennifer Cornbleet,

Related posts

Leave a Comment