I first came across quinoa when I lived in San Diego, where my super-healthy friend used to eat a giant bowl of it for breakfast. High in fiber and super-high in protein, quinoa is packed full of vitamins and minerals. It has been a staple in the Andes for over 5000 years and is credited with giving the Inca’s the stamina they needed to build their formidable empire.
Quinoa’s high protein content make it an especially valuable food for vegetarians. It is a unique grain in that it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. It is also thought to play a preventative role when it comes to certain cancers and to benefit the heart due to its high magnesium content and its abundance of plant lignans.
I buy quinoa for its impressive nutritional credentials but my family loves it for its creamy, nutty taste and light fluffy texture. I use it in place of rice as a side dish, mix it into salads or eat it as a breakfast porridge with agave nectar and nuts. There are thousand’s of varieties of quinoa but the most common one, here in the US, is white quinoa. Most health food stores also stock red quinoa which is very festive to look at and tastes delicious.
When cooking with quinoa, it’s important to rinse the raw grains really well. This is because the plant produces a bitter coat made of saponins to deter insects. Steep the quinoa in several changes of water to remove this coating. You can buy pre-rinsed quinoa but I think it still benefits from an extra rinse before you cook with it. One cup of raw quinoa yields three cups of cooked grains. I cook it in water or stock using two cups of water for each cup of quinoa. I bring it to a boil and simmer it for 15 minutes. You will notice that as it cooks the germ loosens forming little spirals around the grain. I drain it then let it stand for 5 minutes before serving it, either on its own or with a small amount of olive oil.