Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quinoa: The Mother Grain

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Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-WA, has been on my radar for quite some time. It is an ancient grain-like food from the Incas, prized for its ability to increase the stamina of their people. Although quinoa is often thought of as a grain, it is actually a green leafy plant like spinach or chard. What has become popular, commercially, is the seed of the quinoa plant, even though the full grown plant can also be consumed.

Quinoa Is Awesome

The quinoa seed is an excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium and fiber. It has served as a gluten-free grain. It is simple enough to prepare and getting easier, by the day, to find in mainstream stores. However, possibly most importantly, the quinoa seed is one of the very few complete proteins available to us. This means that the seed contains the correct balance of the 9 essential amino acids the human body thrives on.

Learning all of this in my quest for a diverse menu of healthy meals to choose from, I began exploring quinoa as a possible addition about a year ago. At first, I had great difficulty finding it outside of health food stores or shopping online. Then my own grocery store began to shelve it and now they even have red and black quinoa as well. Since it has become easy enough to acquire that I can now. realistically, include it in our weekly meals, I have started exploring some ways to prepare it.

I had practiced the basic preparation of quinoa, adding various ingredients, preparing it much like a rice dish as a side to my dinners, or creating warm quinoa dishes for a quickie lunch. During November, I discovered a great recipe for a breakfast quinoa dish - a hot apple cinnamon quinoa cereal that was absolutely delicious. However, regardless of the preparation, my husband still was uncomfortable with the texture of the dish. I had all but given up on sharing quinoa with him when I found out about a technique I had not yet tried: Toasting the quinoa.

Toasted Quinoa

Toasting quinoa is not a recipe unto itself, it is a preparation of the seed that gives it a rich flavor and does, in fact, change the texture as well. The technique is simple, all you require is:
  • rinsed quinoa seed
  • a pan
Put the rinsed quinoa into your pan on medium heat. Either shake the pan or stir the quinoa continuouslyfor 15 minutes. The quinoa should turn a golden brown color.
The smell of the toasting quinoa was similar to that of popcorn.
When the toasting is complete, take the pan off the heat and allow the quinoa to cool. This quinoa can now be stored in an air-tight container for up to one month and used in any recipe you would use regular quinoa for.

Quinoa Pilaf (Now Toasted)

I am happy to say that my first experiment with this "new" quinoa was a wonderful success. I prepared a simple quinoa pilaf from the back of the box of quinoa I purchased (Ancient Harvest Quinoa) and my husband actually liked it! He noted the difference in the texture and thinks toasted quinoa may be the secret he has been waiting for. My cousin, who has been staying with us for the holidays, also tried the pilaf and enjoyed it as well. It was her first ever experience with quinoa and she called home to Miami to tell her fiancee about it. Needless to say, toasted quinoa will be a mainstay in our house and for that reason I really wanted to share it with you as well!

Here is the recipe for the pilaf, if you are interested in giving it a go as well:
(*Note: This made A LOT of quinoa pilaf! You may want to adjust the recipe before diving in with all 6 cups of your quinoa!!)


  • 1/2 cup Diced Carrots
  • 1/2 cup Onions, Green
  • 1/4 cup Celery, raw, diced
  • 1/4 cup Diced Green Peppers
  • 1/4 cup Red Peppers
  • 6 cups Ancient Harvest Quinoa
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 2 clove Garlic
  • 1 cup Almonds, Sliced
  • 1/4 tsp Oregano


Sauté chopped vegetables in olive oil until clear, yet crisp: stir in oregano. Add sautéed vegetables to cooked, hot quinoa, mixing well. Add salt to taste. Dry-roast almonds in heavy skillet until lightly golden. Add almonds and mix. Serves 6-8. Quinoa pilaf served as a side dish with fish or chicken is delicious. Vary the pilaf using your favorite vegetables, or by cooking the quinoa in chicken, fish or vegetable stock instead of water.

Question for Commenters: 
What are your great recipes/uses for quinoa? Now that I finally have my husband back on board, I am ready to experiment!! 


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