This probably doesn’t require a whole post, but I’m going to make it quick as I just wrote a post that disappeared and stupidly I didn’t save it! So quinoa it is. Actually, I do personally think it’s a good subject, as I was someone who took a long time to finally get on the quinoa band wagon and it’s such a healthy little addition to your diet.
One of the problems we have is our over-reliance on wheat. We have wheat-based cereal for breakfast, followed by sandwiches at lunch, and then topped off with pasta in the evening. Eating the same old foods again and again is not great for a number of reasons. Firstly, it limits the range of nutrients we get from our diet. Secondly, wheat and other well used grains such as corn, are often highly processed. This usually means they lack the nutrients they started out with, and also our body doesn’t always assimilate highly processed grains well. Lastly, for some people with specific symptoms or conditions, reducing their reliance on gluten-containing grains can be beneficial. I'm not advocating a general gluten ban here! But for more information on this have a look at a previous blog. The bottom line is that increasing the variety of grains/pseudograins you eat is a good thing. Eating quinoa is one way to do this.
So, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah not quin-oh-aa as I called it for far too long) is a delicious high protein pseudo-grain. It dates back to the Incas, and is still grown in South America. The small, round grains look similar to millet and are either pale brown in colour or dark red. It has a mild flavour and tends to soak up the flavours of the recipe you are using. It can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes, including salads, porridge and as a side dish or a replacement for cous-cous. All supermarkets sell quinoa these days, so it’s easy to find. One quick note, if you use it for porridge, then buy quinoa flakes, they work much better. You usually have to buy them in whole food shops, as the supermarkets haven’t cottoned on to them yet.
One of the reasons quinoa is such a healthy food is that it is a “complete protein”, much like meat is. This means it contains all the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that our body needs from our diet. It’s very difficult to find vegan and vegetarian foods that are complete proteins, and so is essential really for anyone who is avoiding meat and animal produce.
How on earth do you cook it?
Quinoa can be cooked like rice and other grains. Add cold water roughly in a ratio of 1:1, although I tend to do slightly less water and add more if I need, as if you overcook it then it gets pretty stodgy. Bring it to the boil and cook for 10 mins max, then cover and turn off heat and leave to continue cooking for a few minutes, to soak up the last of the water. There can be some trial and error to start with until you get used to cooking it. It should end up light and fluffy, with a firm and slightly chewy texture. Although the grains grow in size, they remain intact and usually become slightly translucent and ringed with white. If you are really struggling, you can buy ready-made quinoa in some supermarkets. Merchant Gourmet is a good range, and if you’ve never eaten quinoa before then I’d recommend buying this first, so at least you know what it should taste like. My dad is following a pretty strict gluten-free diet at the moment, and whenever I talked about the greatness that is quinoa, he never seemed overly enthusiastic. Well I finally witnessed him cooking it over Christmas, and no wonder he saw eating it as an endurance test. You’d have to pay me good money to eat the sludgy mess he cooked up! So it can be a good idea to have a standard to aim for, at least to start with.
Here is a basic recipe to get you started, but you can find plenty of ideas online too.
Colourful Quick Quinoa Salad
170g uncooked quinoa 250ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp chopped fresh mint
1 tsp grated lemon rind 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar ½ tsp sea salt
1 handful cherry tomatoes, quartered 1 handful baby leaf spinach
1chopped yellow bell pepper 4 inches chopped cucumber
100g crumbled feta cheese (optional) 3 tbsp chopped olives
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
Method: Bring stock to a boil in a large saucepan; stir in quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-12 then turn off heat and leave a further 3-5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. If it starts to dry out prior to this then simply add a little more boiling water. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Cool to room temperature. Combine all other ingredients in another bowl, add quinoa and stir lightly. Serves 3-4.
Give it a try!