I’ve spent more than a few minutes trying to come up with an entertaining way to introduce you to one of my favorite grains- or ‘grain-like products’ to be more accurate. And still I’m drawing a blank. Grains can be fun! But I realize you may not be entirely on board with me yet…
So we’ll just jump right into it: quinoa! It has been touted recently as a ‘superfood’ due to its surprisingly complete set of essential amino acids and its higher protein, fiber, vitamin and mineral profile than most other grain-type products. It is also naturally gluten free. You may have made dozens of quinoa dishes already, or you may have never heard of it. I fall somewhere in between.
Quinoa isn’t technically a grain. It’s actually the harvested seed from a flowering plant closely related to beets, spinach, and- oddly enough- tumbleweed. It is primarily grown in Peru and Bolivia and has been a diet mainstay as far back as the Incas… long before we decided to call it ‘super’ and place it on the cover of your favorite food magazine.
And it truly is super. Not only because of its heavily-marketed credential list above, but also because of its versatility and flavor. It can be handled just about like rice in the kitchen- carrying a little more pizzaz- and has a mild nutty flavor and unique texture. It comes in white, red and black cultivars that can all be treated similarly. Although most quinoa found in stores has already been rinsed, quinoa can have a saponin residue on the outer surface causing an ‘off’ taste if not soaked or rinsed briefly before cooking.
As a general cooking rule, 1 cup of quinoa can be added to 2 cups of cold liquid, brought to a boil, and then turned down to a simmer and cooked, covered, for about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when its small, curled germ cell pulls away from the seed. Excess liquid, if present, can be drained. It can be served hot or cold, as a main dish or as a side. I’ve even seen a fruit quinoa billed as a dessert, but that will have to be another post. 1 cup of uncooked quinoa will yield 2 3/4 cups cooked.
So grab a bag and feel… well, super.
Summer Quinoa Salad
Simmer quinoa, as above, in salted water. Drain and chill once cooked. Add finely chopped red and yellow peppers, shallot or red onion, cucumber and scallions (green onions). Toss with a bright-flavored vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fantastic served cold, and tastes even better the next day.
Butternut Quinoa with Thyme and Sage
Simmer quinoa, as above, in a well-flavored stock- chicken, veal, beef, or vegetable. While it simmers, peel and cut a butternut squash into small cubes. Sauté the butternut in a small amount of oil in a hot pan until it is cooked through and develops a caramelized, browned surface. Season the butternut with salt, pepper, chopped thyme and chopped sage. Drain any excess stock from the quinoa after cooking, and combine with the butternut. Add additional thyme, sage, salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.