Quinoa has a somewhat nutty flavor and crunchy texture and is one of my favorite things to cook and eat. Although not a common item in most kitchens, quinoa is a gluten free food source that has a high protein and nutritional content. Although it’s commonly considered a grain, quinoa is a seed of the plant, Chenopodium quinoa, that is a relative of spinach, chard and beets. It can be used much like grains that are used in pilafs, salads, baking and as a hot breakfast cereal.
The seeds can be creamy white, orange, pink, red, purple or black, but I don’t find the color influences the taste. It’s available in most food stores throughout the year and I usually buy it from the bulk bins to save money and packaging (I reuse my plastic bags or use net or fabric bags). You can also buy quinoa flour and pasta.
Quinoa is also high in fiber and easy to digest, and the protein it supplies is complete because it includes all nine essential amino acids. The seed is high in lysine, which is an amino acid that is scarce in the vegetable kingdom, making it an important food for plant-based eaters. Lysine is essential for tissue growth and repair. Quinoa also contains more calcium than milk and many other vital nutrients, such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin E.
Because quinoa is loaded with so many nutrients and fiber, it’s beneficial for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis, and also for people who are trying to lose weight. It can have significant cardiovascular benefits for postmenopausal women and it’s a good source of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant. Quinoa is also a good plant source of “essential fatty acids”- omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, and it’s lower in carbs than rice.
It’s said that quinoa seeds contain a bitter-tasting substance called “saponin” which should be rinsed under cool water before cooking until the foamy residue disappears. I haven’t noticed any bitter taste when eating un-rinsed and cooked quinoa and when I’ve tried to rinse it, I haven’t noticed much of a foamy residue. I have found rinsing it is a pain as the openings in my finest mesh strainer are not small enough to keep from losing some of the seeds down the sink. So for now I don’t rinse. In the future, I may learn of the absolute need to rinse quinoa and will be posting a recommendation to wash the seeds – we’ll see.
Although quinoa recipes abound, you really don’t need a recipe to make a quinoa salad or pilaf, just toss cooked quinoa with raw, steamed or sautéed veggies and some seasoning. For savory dishes, I like to sauté quinoa in a small amount of olive oil or dry roast it in a bare pan, before the liquid part of the cooking process, stirring constantly for 2 minutes to bring out more of the nutty flavor.
To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare, but altitude affects how fast liquid cooks down, so watch the pot.
*** Quinoa is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of purines, however, like all members of the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae plant family, quinoa does contain oxalates. The oxalate content of quinoa ranges widely, but even the lower end of the oxalate range puts quinoa on the caution or avoidance list for an oxalate-restricted diet.