Quinoa is hot these days, and although it's popping up everywhere from high-end restaurants to vegan home kitchens across the country, there are still those who aren't sure what, exactly, it is.
Let's start with what it isn't. It's not a grain, a bean, or a cereal. In fact, it's more closely related to Swiss chard, spinach, and beets than oats! It's actually a fluffy and nutty seed that's cooked like rice and makes a fabulous side dish with almost any meal.
Pronounced keen-wah, this ancient seed was originally harvested in Bolivia and has been eaten by native populations in South America for over 8,000 years. But the nutritionally dense superfood has had a renaissance of sorts over the past few decades, introduced into American diets as a substitute for gluten-filled grains for those with Celiac disease and as a valuable source of protein for many vegans and vegetarians.
Quinoa is a superstar when it comes to nutrition and convenience–it only takes about 20 minutes to fully cook (way less than most grains and rice) and it's packed with B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and vitamins. The seed is also dense in fiber while being relatively low in calories, which makes it an excellent choice for those trying to lose weight because it keeps tummies fuller for longer.
For those who avoid meat, quinoa can be a great option to add into day-to-day meals for a boost of protein and healthy fats. It has about the same amount of protein as milk, due to the nine essential amino acids that make it a "complete protein." For vegans avoiding animal products, most protein sources are made up of less than eight amino acids and are considered "incomplete," so quinoa is an easy and healthy alternative to dairy or meat for nutrition.
Plus, it contains fats from oleic acid and alpha-lipoleic acid, two naturally occurring fats that have been proven to reduce heart disease and blood pressure as well as decrease inflammation.
Okay, so this little seed is undeniably advantageous to add to any diet, but how? First thing to know about cooking quinoa is that it always, without fail, must be rinsed.
Why? Most quinoa is sold with a coating of saponin, a compound that surrounds the seed and that acts as a deterrent to predators. This needs to be rinsed off quinoa before it's cooked, as it can can cause digestive issues. (Even rinsed, the fibrous nature of quinoa can be hard on sensitive stomachs.) When washed, saponin will foam and look kind of soapy, so make sure to keep rinsing until the water runs completely clear.
For lazy chefs, quinoa is your new BFF. The cooking method is simple–one cup of quinoa to two cups of water plus a pinch of salt–and it reheats really well, making it optimal for cooking a big batch on a Sunday and using for an entire week's worth of meals.
Photo credit: Pavel Gramatikov via Stocksy