It looks like a grain, cooks like rice, is related to leafy greens, tastes a little like nuts, and has the iron, amino acids and complete protein of meat. But quinoa is actually a delicious, nutritious seed.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a recently rediscovered ancient seed native to South America, where it was once called "the gold of the Incas." It is now rising in popularity again as more and more people discover its versatility, taste, and impressive nutritional profile.
Often mistaken for a grain, quinoa is the seed of a plant (chenopodium quinoa) related to greens such as beets, chard and spinach. It is packed with protein, and includes all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, and is especially high in the amino acid lysine, which promotes healthy tissue growth throughout the body.
Quinoa is also a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, manganese, copper and fiber. But it is light on calories, with a quarter-cup serving containing 165 calories.
Because quinoa is a complete protein with high iron content, it is particularly popular with vegans and vegetarians. It is also gluten-free, making it a good option for those avoiding gluten in their diet.
Cooked quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy, yet slightly crunchy with a light, nutty, flavor. It can be served at any meal, on its own, as a side dish or part of a salad, casserole or dessert. The most common type of quinoa is a transparent yellow, but there also a variety of other colors, such as orange, red, pink, purple or black, which can add beautiful color to your dish.
Quinoa can be prepared like rice. It is a good idea to thoroughly wash the seeds first (running cold water over the seeds in a fine-meshed strainer, gently rubbing the seeds). To cook, add one part of quinoa to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover, about 12-15 minutes for one cup quinoa. If you want a nuttier flavor, dry roast the seeds before cooking, placing them in a skillet over medium-low heat and stirring constantly for five minutes.
Here are some serving ideas:
• Cook like oatmeal for breakfast, and add your favorite toppings such as dried or fresh fruit, maple syrup, honey, spices or low-fat milk.
• Replace rice with quinoa in casseroles, stuffed peppers, soups, stews, stir-fries, curries, cold salads, mixed with cooked vegetables, or as a side to chili, beans, or any main dish.
• Use as a baking “grain” in muffins or breads.
• For dessert, make as a pudding with raisins, vanilla, nuts and cinnamon.