What is Quinoa and why all the hype?
First cultivated around 5,000 years ago in South America, quinoa is a flowering plant in the amaranth family. It is an annual plant grown primarily for its edible seeds that cook up like a grain. Quinoa is not a grass (most grains are), but rather a non grass that is used like grain. It is related to spinach and amaranth.
Quinoa provides protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and dietary minerals in amounts above those of wheat, corn, rice, or oats and it is gluten free. In addition to protein and fiber, quinoa is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron, thiamine and folate.
One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein however, it’s not the total protein content but the type of protein that gives quinoa it’s healthy rep. Quinoa has all nine amino acids essential for human nutrition making it a complete protein. This combo is common in meats, but rarely found in plant-based foods which makes quinoa a great staple for vegans and vegetarians.
Tips for Cooking Quinoa and loving it
1. Always Rinse
Quinoa grows with a bitter-tasting, protective coating called saponin. Most quinoa you buy in grocery stores says that it is pre-rinsed but I have found that another run under the faucet makes a huge difference in the taste. If you have had quinoa before and thought it had a strange flavor or after taste, rinse it really well and give it another try. To rinse your quinoa, put it into a fine-mesh sieve or reusable coffee filter and run cold water over it to rinse it well . Shake off any excess water before starting your recipe.
2. Flavor Baby!
Water is most peoples go-to, but I prefer other liquids like low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth for their added flavor. Other options for added flavor are dry white wine (1/2 cup wine plus 1 1/2 cups broth per cup of quinoa) or citrus juice (1/4 cup lemon or lime juice plus 1 3/4 cups broth per cup of quinoa).
For breakfast quinoa or dessert recipes I like to replace the liquid with fruit juice or nut milk.
Just keep the ratio 2 cups liquid to 1 cup quinoa.
3. Toast before cooking to Maximize Flavor
Most of the time I don’t take the extra step to toast my quinoa but it is especially delicious when using quinoa in breakfast or dessert applications. Toasting brings out a slightly nuttier flavor.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place your rinsed quinoa in a shallow baking dish, or sheet pan, in a single layer.
Toast the quinoa until fragrant and golden, about 8 minutes. Shake the pan a little and rotate halfway through for even cooking. Check your quinoa every couple of minutes to prevent burning. Use your toasted quinoa as you would use raw quinoa, keeping liquid ratios and cooking times the same.
4. Watch the Time
Quinoa cooks quickly—in about 15 minutes. You’ll know when the quinoa is done because all of the liquid will be absorbed and it will look like it has popped open, revealing the germ of the kernel.
5. Play with your Food
Start by trying Quinoa recipes that sound appealing to you –I have a few here and will be adding more this month. Once you are confident cooking basic quinoa, experiment and have fun. Make a batch of sweet or savory basic quinoa and then play around with add ins, dressings, sauces and spices. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Breakfast or dessert bowls with fresh, dried or cooked fruits, toasted nuts, seeds, dark chocolate….a dollop of yogurt or coconut cream…
Burrito Bowls, Fried “rice”, Curried “rice”, Stir Fry
Topped with chili, vegetable stew or beef stew
In place of cooked rice in any recipe
Basic Quinoa (savory or sweet)
I usually make this in big batches and then divided it up and use it in my various quinoa recipes. You can this recipe to make basic cooked quinoa for use in both savory and sweet dishes. Choose your cooking liquid based on which dishes you will be making with your cooked quinoa or what you will be serving it with. This is an easy way to make a bunch of meals at once and still have variety. All of my quinoa recipes on this site start with basic cooked quinoa.
Place your quinoa in a fine mesh strainer or reusable coffee filter and rinse well under cold running water.
Combine liquid and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Savory Liquid Variations:
low-sodium chicken, vegetable broth or beef broth
Dry white wine (1/2 cup wine plus 1 1/2 cups broth per cup of quinoa)
Citrus juice (1/4 cup lemon or lime juice plus 1 3/4 cups broth per cup of quinoa)
Sweet Liquid Options:
Nut Milk (my favorite) - almond, hazelnut, walnut, cashew, coconut...