Spotlight on Quinoa

By Pamela Doubleday RD, CD-N

Though actually a seed, Quinoa, pronounced, KEEN-WAH, is often referred to as a “super-grain” because it’s a nutritionally complete protein.  Quinoa is a tiny, round grain, often light-colored but also available in red, purple and black varieties.  Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain, quinoa cooks in about 10-12 minutes, creating a light fluffy side dish.  This wonder grain is not only high in protein (11 grams in 1 cup of cooked quinoa), but also cholesterol and gluten-free, and a good source of iron & fiber.  Most quinoa must be rinsed before cooking, to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant defense that wards off insects.  New saponin-free strains eliminate this minor annoyance to the enjoyment of quinoa. Some varieties only take 20 minutes to cook-you will know it’s done when it turns slightly translucent. It can also be incorporated into soups, salads and baked goods. You can make a quinoa salad or use instead of rice for a higher protein whole grain.

Knowing when it’s done:  All of the cooking liquid will be absorbed and the grains will be fully tender.

TIP:  Toast quinoa in a dry (no oil or butter) pot before adding water; toasting it in fat gives the grain a slightly bitter flavor.

Health Bonus:  The abundant protein in quinoa is complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own!