Let’s talk about quinoa. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but I’m also sure many of you have walked right past it in the grocery store thinking it is 1) too intimidating to attempt or 2) looks too much like bird seed to please your meat and potatoes family. So let’s address those issues…
First, how the heck do you say quinoa?! Some people pronounce it “keen-wah” and others say “kee-no-wah.” Either is fine.
Yes! We tackled challenge #1! Now…cooking and eating it…
Quinoa is ridiculously good for you. Like, crazy healthy. It is actually a seed, not a whole grain, despite many similarities and placement on the grocery store shelves. (That means it is gluten free for those dealing with gluten allergies! Although, discuss with your doctor first, of course.) Quinoa is loaded with tons of valuable nutrients, most notably healthy complete proteins. Sure, those proteins are great for your body but those proteins also make quinoa hearty and satisfying… which also makes it a great food for when you’re trying to shed some pounds. You get a powerful nutritional punch with a smaller amount of food.
Consider quinoa a blank canvas. If your family likes meat, add meat. If they like veggies, add veggies. If they prefer fruit, make a sweet quinoa and add fruit.
Great. Now what? How do I cook it?
There are a lot of ways to prepare quinoa. First the basics…
- Some people say you should rinse it first. As I mentioned, it is a seed so it can taste a bit grassy. Some believe that a good rinse helps with that. I don’t rinse my quinoa before cooking it and I think it is fine. Most quinoa that is sold in stores has already been rinsed. Personally, I think a good vinaigrette is the cure for the grassy flavor.
- Toast it. Before adding your cooking liquid, put your quinoa in a pot over medium heat and stir it while it toasts for a few minutes. It will give it a nice toasty flavor! Just be careful not to burn it.
- Most importantly: Quinoa will soak up any flavor you add to it so go easy especially with salt! You want to add flavor at some point, though. Sometimes I cook my quinoa in half unsalted stock or broth (chicken, vegetable, whatever you like) and half water for savory dishes. That gives it flavor without over salting. Sometimes I just cook it in water. You can also add other seasonings if you like; just try to avoid salt during the cooking process. For sweet dishes, I usually add a sprinkling of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla extract to the water to boost the flavor.
- You can overcook it, so pay attention to your cooking times.
The basic quinoa recipe:
- Quinoa cooks at a 1:2 ratio – that’s 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid. You can make any size recipe with any kind of liquid (water or stock) using this ratio.
- Heat a stockpot over medium heat. Add your quinoa and toast for a minute or two.
- Add your liquid.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer covered for about 10-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. To avoid over cooking, once it is done remove from the heat and take off the lid.
- Fluff with a fork and stir in your mix-ins.
Every Sunday I make a big salad of sorts for my husband and I to take for lunch for the week. This week I made a quinoa salad: quinoa, diced red pepper, cucumber (remove the seeds otherwise the dish gets watery), wilted baby kale (any green works great), and chickpeas. Plus a quick vinaigrette (if you have a favorite, use that!):
- 1 part acid (I used lemon juice) and 2 parts olive oil – for 6 cups of cooked quinoa, I used 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- pinch of salt
- fresh cracked black pepper
- I used a sprinkle of hot smoked paprika for some heat – add basil, oregano, rosemary or even chili powder if you like
- zest from the whole lemon
Add all of that to a container with a lid. Give it a good shake and let it sit in the fridge for about a half-hour or more so the flavors can marinate. Once it tastes great, shake and pour over your quinoa. Stir together. Eat. Yum yum yum.
For breakfast: Quinoa also makes a great breakfast cereal! Add a bit of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla to the cooking liquid. When it is done, stir in some milk and/or yogurt to make it creamy. Add some berries and nuts. If you want to sweeten it, maple syrup or honey works great. That’s it! A delicious, healthy breakfast for kiddos and adults alike.
For baby: I also decided to give Sweet D some quinoa for the first time this weekend. It is a great food for baby once she’s about 8 months! I mixed in broccoli, pea, and butternut squash purees… she LOVED it. My husband fed her… as he tried to scrape bits of quinoa off her face, she chased the spoon with an open mouth for more.
For Passover: And for those of you who observe Passover, quinoa is kosher for Passover in many traditions. Add it to you meal!
Was that so scary? I actually think quinoa is easier to cook than rice, barley, or other whole grains. It cooks in 15 minutes, for goshsakes!
Stay tuned for another great quinoa recipe later this week!