Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quinoa - Miracle Grain

i love quinoa. seriously, i could go on and on about the wonder that is quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). let me first give you the definition according to the ever-popular wikipedia:
"a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain."

of course, my first thought is, what in the heck is a pseudocereal?!? well, "pseudocereals are broadleaf plants (non-grasses) that are used in much the same way as cereals (true cereals are grasses). Their seed can be ground into flour and otherwise used as cereals." obviously . . . thanks wikipedia:)

in plain terms, it looks very much like a grain (similar to couscous) but it's not technically a grain. quinoa is actually a complete protein. as i read this, i realized "complete protein" is one of those words i hear thrown around a lot but i never truly knew what is meant. back to wikipedia . . .
"A complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all of the essential amino acids for the dietary needs of humans or other animals"

so, because of the very high protein content of quinoa (12%–18%) and it's balanced set of essential amino acids, it is a very smart choice for those attempting a healthy eating lifestyle as well as vegetarians and vegans. quinoa is also a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorous and is high in magnesium and iron. are you starting to see why i sing it's praises? last but not least, quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest. it's so fantastic, i discovered quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA's controlled ecological life support system for long-term spaceflights.

as you can see, it is a super food. oh, one other detail, it tastes good! actually, i think it doesn't have a whole lot of flavor on its own which is a good thing because it absorbs other flavors so nicely. the basic cooking instructions are very simple.

Basic Quinoa

1 C quinoa
2 C water

rinse quinoa. (it can have a slightly bitter flavor if you skip this step, so don't - just soak in some water in a pot and then drain, or run under cold water in a strainer)
bring water and quinoa to boil. reduce heat to low and cover. let simmer, covered, for 15 mins. (small grains will appear to break open). serve warm or let cool and store in fridge for up to 5 days.

sometimes i cook it in chicken stock if i am going to eat it plain or as a bed for chicken or fish. however, if it is cooked in water, you can spice it up with a number of yummy flavors. i like to make a batch monday to have for the week. as i said before, i mix it with homemade marinara and parmesan for a yummy pasta-like dish. you can toss it cold with chopped veggies and a vinaigrette for a wonderful cold salad - perfect for lunch. clean eating had a fantastic recipe for a lime and garlic shrimp orzo. i substituted quinoa for the orzo (per K's recommendation) and it was fantastic!

Shrimp with Lime and Garlic Quinoa
adapted from clean eating magazine september/october 2009

(serves 4-6)

3/4 c quinoa
1c frozen corn
3 Tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 green onions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

cook quinoa according to package instructions. heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. add garlic and cook another minute. add corn and cook until shrimp is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. mix together hot quinoa, broth, salt and pepper, green onions and lime juice. serve shrimp and corn mixture on top of lime quinoa.

you could also have it for breakfast instead of oatmeal. seriously, how versatile is this wonder food?!?

Maple Pecan Quinoa
(serves 2)

1/2 c milk
1/2 c water
1/2 c quinoa
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 c toasted pecans
2 tsp maple syrup (agave works here too)
(1 c - fresh berries, optional)

bring milk, water and quinoa to a boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. turn off heat and let sit, covered 5 minutes. meanwhile, toast pecans in skillet on medium heat until just starting to brown 3-5 mins. stir in berries (if using) and cinnamon. divide into two bowls and top with pecans. top with 1 tsp of maple syrup or agave nectar.

be sure to experiment a little, just as you would with oatmeal. if you like hot oatmeal for breakfast, you will like quinoa.

give quinoa a try. it is so good for you and you can't go wrong. please send me your quinoa experiments - i'd love to hear about them!

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