Thursday, November 10

Food Spotlight: Quinoa

I have recently been introduced to the whole grain quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, not qwin-oh-ah, which I learned the hard way.

I asked for qwin-oh-ah at the grocery store. The store employee cocked her head to the side and gave me the same confused look my dog Snickers does when I ask her where her ball is. Staring at the Kroger employee I repeated my request, “Can you tell me where to find qwin-oh-ah?”

The employee’s befuddled look remained so I added, “It’s a grain. Supposed to be really healthy for you.”

“Oh,” she responded, recognition finally settling in. “It’s called keen-wah, by the way, and you can find it in the bulk bin area,” she added with a chuckle.

As a writer I like to think that I have a fairly decent command of the English language. Apparently not.

So, the correct pronunciation of quinoa is my early Christmas gift to you, to save you from embarrassment at the hands of a grocery store clerk.

You’re welcome.

What exactly is quinoa?

It looks like a grain, it’s cooked like rice, but it’s actually the seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant which is related to beets, Swiss chard and spinach. Because of this close relation to green leafy vegetables it’s loaded with nutrients—manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

But the real news is that quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids that make up a protein. This is fabulous news for vegetarians who are concerned about protein intake. Typically vegetarians need to ingest different types of protein throughout the day to ensure they get all the different amino acids they need. Quinoa supplies everything they need, so no food combining is necessary. The only other plant food with a complete protein profile is soybeans.

One cup of cooked quinoa supplies 8 grams of protein, that’s more protein than in an egg.

Quinoa also has a much lower glycemic index rating than other carbohydrates such as white rice or white potatoes. Making it a great substitute for those items.

So, you get the benefits of a whole grain, i.e. high fiber content, and the satiety of a protein. Win-win!

Where to find it?

I found it at Kroger in the bulk food area. You can also look for it in the aisle with other grain-like products, rice, cous cous etc.

How to prepare it?

While it could easily be an entrĂ©e, I typically serve it as a side dish. Think of it as a substitute for rice. And like rice, you should rinse it before you use it. Quinoa has a bitter-tasting substance on it called saponin, a natural plant chemical. Most of the saponin is removed before it hits your grocer’s shelf, but just to be sure, give it a good rinse under cold water. I put it in a fine mesh metal strainer and run it under cold water for several minutes.

Here’s my favorite weekday preparation of it. I made it the other night and served it along with some broiled mahi mahi. We started the meal with the butternut squash soup recipe from last week. Yum!

And here’s a recipe that sounded interesting, but I haven’t tried it. It’s from the Cooking Quinoa website and apparently the author’s favorite quinoa recipe. She wrote an entire cookbook on quinoa so you’d think this one would be good.

Balsamic Quinoa Salad
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ – ½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil (depending on if you are watching calories)
  • 2 Tbls Dijon mustard
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ cups quinoa
  • Bouillon cube
  • 5 Sun Dried Tomatoes (Not in oil)
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 oz blue cheese
  • 1 can black beans


·      Make dressing by combining vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallots and olive oil.  Season to taste.
·      Add quinoa and bouillon to three cups of boiling water.  Boil for 10 minutes.
·      Rinse quinoa with cool water and place in a fine mesh colander.  Boil more water and place quinoa and sun dried tomatoes in the colander over the water.  Cover with a kitchen towel and lid.  Steam for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
·      Cook red pepper in a small skillet until tender.
·      Combine red pepper, blue cheese and black beans with quinoa. Add dressing and toss. 

Enjoy your qwin-oh-ah…I mean, keen-wah!

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