I’m not afraid to admit that I get in food ruts just like anyone else. But I didn’t realize until the other night that I was in a “brown rice” food rut. Okay. So maybe a nutritionist’s food rut is a little different from the average person! But there you have it. Well as I perused the cabinet for my usual brown rice staple to accompany that night’s stir fry, I realized I was completely OUT OF STOCK. My heart sank as I raced to think of a suitable substitute. Forced to look deeper into my pantry, I found the coveted quinoa. PHEW. This could work! Funny that as much as I talk about the amazing benefits of this versatile grain, I find I don’t use it enough myself
If you are not familiar with quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’), it’s technically a seed, not a whole grain. But quinoa has a nutrition profile similar to grains such as wheat, oats, barley and brown rice. Like most whole grains, quinoa delivers about 220 calories and 5 grams of fiber per cup, along with a host of vitamins and minerals.
One of the best things about quinoa is that it’s quick and easy to prepare. While most whole grains take 30 to 45 minutes to cook, quinoa is done in just 10 to 15 minutes. Other great quinoa perks include:
Great protein package. Quinoa has 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. Not only is this high for a grain (most have 5 grams), but it’s considered a “complete” protein. This means that it includes all nine essential amino acids, just like animal sources of protein (most grains are deficient in the amino acid lysine).
Gluten-free. This makes quinoa a safe alternative for those who have celiac disease or need to avoid gluten. It’s also considered an ideal food for those prone to food allergies.
Not sure where to look for quinoa? It’s not yet popular like rice or oats, so you won’t find it in every supermarket. Try looking in the rice aisle for boxed quinoa. Health food stores will have quinoa in bulk bins and/or packaged.
Here are some cooking tips:
- Most quinoa you buy will have the bitter cover, or saponin, removed. But because some of this may still be present, it’s always wise to rinse the quinoa in a small colander before cooking.
- Combine 1 cup grain to 2 cups liquid (I like using low-sodium chicken or veggie broth). Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Then turn heat down to low and steam/simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- As quinoa cooks, the germ is released from the exterior of the grain and forms a tiny spiral. You’ll recognize it easily by its white coloring and sprout-like appearance.
Quinoa, when cooked, is light and fluffy, with a slightly nutty flavor. It’s great in soups, salads, and pilafs, and an excellent alternative to rice or couscous.
- As a breakfast cereal, try mixing cooked quinoa with a little milk, honey, slivered almonds and banana or berries.
- Instead of noodles, toss 1/2 cup of raw quinoa into a soup pot with broth and veggies during cooking. It cooks in minutes!
- Use quinoa in place of any hot or cold rice or barley dish.
- Quinoa flour, sold in health food stores, can be used as you would rice flour. The flour makes a perfect thickener for soups, sauces and gravies.
Next time you’re struggling to break out of a food rut, give quinoa a try. Introducing new foods to your diet is also a great way to add variety and avoid boredom with the same old standards. Happy cooking!