Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is one of the hot topics in America’s food scene, especially for health-conscious foodies. Here at Two Healthy Kitchens, we love it, too! In fact, on our Pinterest boards, some of our most repinned recipes are those that include quinoa. People just can’t get enough! In its April 2013 issue, Cooking Light magazine even said that “quinoa” is one of the most searched terms at their web site. It’s that popular!
Recently, we posted one of our favorite quinoa recipes – Corn, Edamame and Quinoa Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette. As excited as everyone is to cook with quinoa, though, some people are still a little unsure where to begin. Never fear – we’re here to help!
But really, why is quinoa all the rage? Good question! It’s definitely not a superstar because of its fashion sense (ever notice the funny little tails it has – what’s up with that???). Really, though, if you’ve ever tried quinoa, you know that it’s delicious but also really mild and neutral tasting – kind of like rice – so it plays nicely with just about any flavors you want to add. Savory, sweet, Mexican, Mediterannean … with quinoa, it’s all good!
Quinoa is usually lumped into discussions about whole grains, along with others like barley, amaranth, spelt and oats. But, technically, quinoa isn’t a cereal grain at all. (According to the Whole Grains Council, quinoa is actually botanically related to beets, chard and spinach – just a little fun fact!) Still, it’s cooked and eaten like grains and has a similar nutrient profile, and you often see it used in recipes in place of oats (like in hot breakfast cereal), rice and other whole grains.
What’s really fantastic about quinoa is that it’s one of the only plants that has all the amino acids needed to be a complete protein (great for vegetarians!), and it has a very high ratio of protein to carbohydrates. The carbs it does have, though, are complex carbs, so, like other whole grains, quinoa will help you feel full longer and is a better source of sustained energy than simple carbs. Plus, quinoa is loaded with goodies like fiber, potassium, magnesium and iron. And it’s gluten free!
Depending on your grocery store, you’re probably most likely to find quinoa in the organic/natural foods section or near the rice and couscous. It’s usually in small boxes or bags, about 12-16 ounces each.
Cooking quinoa is a snap – really! It’s quick and easy, which is just another reason why we love it here at THK!
You may have heard that quinoa needs to be rinsed first, and sometimes that’s true. Quinoa has a coating called saponin which is quite bitter. (That’s why you want to rinse it away!) Oooooooh – another fun fact for you: The bitter saponin layer protects the growing quinoa against pests, which is why it’s so easy to grow quinoa without pesticides and why quinoa is often able to be sold as organic – bonus!
Sometimes, though, you can skip the whole rinsing step (we love skipping steps!), as some quinoa will say right on the package that it’s pre-rinsed. If that’s not labeled or you’re just not sure, go ahead and rinse it in a sieve under running water until the water’s clear. It won’t take but a moment and can remove any residual bitter taste. (Some people prefer to rinse even pre-rinsed quinoa, just to be certain there’s no bitter taste left. But, honestly, here at Two Healthy Kitchens, we don’t bother. We’ll leave that decision up to you, though!)
Next, just follow the directions on your package. (Red quinoa, for example, may need a slightly longer cook time.) Typically, you just dump quinoa and water together in a saucepan with twice the amount of water as quinoa (for example, 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water). Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.
Clever little quinoa even has its own “doneness” indicator! Those weird tails you see on cooked quinoa (they’re actually the kernel’s germ) – they come out as the quinoa cooks! You may want to give the quinoa a quick fluff with a fork, and you’re good to go!
Most brands of quinoa specify that you can also prepare it in a rice cooker, following your manufacturer’s directions for white rice. And, you may see suggestions for cooking quinoa in the microwave. But, with no real time savings and potentially inconsistent results, microwaving isn’t our favorite cooking method for quinoa. Bottom line: Quinoa is super-easy to prepare and you can choose whatever cooking method works best for you (we love that kind of flexibility!).
One cup of uncooked, dry quinoa will yield about 3 cups cooked. You can cook more than the exact amount you need for a specific recipe and store the extra in the fridge for a few days to add into soups, chilis, salads, breakfast oatmeals … or, try our delicious recipes for:
- Citrus Quinoa and Chickpea Salad
- Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake (No Pre-Cooking!)
- Mediterranean Confetti Quinoa Salad
- Kale Chopped Salad with Berries and Freekeh (or Quinoa)
- Corn, Edamame and Quinoa Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
For other quinoa recipe ideas, check out:
- Our Two Healthy Kitchens Quinoa Recipes Pinterest board
- The blog Cooking Quinoa (update: this was added 9/6/13)
- The blog Queen of Quinoa
- Cooking Light’s article on 22 quinoa recipes
For more information on quinoa’s nutrition profile and how to cook it, hop over to these great sites, which we found incredibly helpful in researching and writing this article:
- Whole Grains Council
- Queen of Quinoa’s Get to Know Quinoa
- Quinoa FAQs at the blog Patricia & Carolyn (The Quinoa Sisters)
- Livestrong’s Quinoa Nutrition Information
We’d Love to Hear From You!
Have you tried cooking with quinoa? Scroll down to our comments box and tell us about your quinoa success stories (or any quinoa disasters – sometimes kitchen goofs make the best stories, anyway!).
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