Jumping on the Quinoa bandwagon
I resisted writing about quinoa for some time. Not because I don’t think it’s awesome (I do!), but because it seems like the mainstream media has finally picked up on its awesomeness and has been writing about it ad infinitum… designating it a “superfood”(whatever that means) and tutoring us all on how to properly pronounce this exotically-named seed/grain. I suspected that to my savvy readers, quiona would seem like yesterday’s news, and I didn’t want to write about it unless I could bring something new to the table.
Still, what self-respecting nutrition blogger could ignore the most nutritious of all grains…and a gluten-free one at that? So I decided to take the plunge and add two of my cents on the topic. Hopefully at least one of them will be newsworthy…
What you’ve heard is true
Although it’s only been available in the US since as recently as about 1980, quinoa has been well-known (and eaten) in the Andean regions of South America for thousands of years. It’s a seed of a plant that’s related to beets and spinach, but it cooks up just like a cereal grain. Its claim to fame is the fact that its’ one of the very few plant foods that contains all 9 essential amino acids, which makes it a vegetarian source of complete protein. (In other words, quinoa is different than most vegetarian foods, which need to be strategically paired up to provide all of the amino acids we need… like beans with rice.) Like other whole grains, it has multiple benefits for cardiovascular health, and it also contains high levels of antioxidant minerals like manganese to help protect against cell damage in your red blood and other cells. Lastly, a single modest serving of quinoa has about 10% of your daily needs for magnesium (Mg), a mineral that plays a role in keeping your blood vessels nice and dilated. Now while that may not sound like it’s relevant to you, if you get migraines or have high blood pressure, it certainly is. The average Americans falls short on their daily Mg intake by at least 25%, so adding more Mg-rich foods like quinoa can help close the gap.
But here’s what I find most compelling about quinoa: It’s a whole grain whose cooking time is about the same as–if not quicker than– white rice, making it one of the most nutritious go-to grains you can choose for those quick weekday dinners. Furthermore, it has the same amount of calories as brown rice, but it’s slightly higher fiber/less starchy and takes 30 minutes less to cook.
1 cup of cooked quinoa has 222 calories, 39g carbohydrate (of which 5g is fiber) and 8g of (complete!) protein. Compare that to 1 cup of brown rice, which has 218 calories, 46g of carbohydrate (of which 3.5g is fiber) and 4.5g of (incomplete) protein.
How to jump on the quinoa bandwagon:
1. Cook up some whole quinoa grains. They come in all sorts of colors, but red and white are the most widely available in these here parts. They look mighty festive when blended together, as I did in the pilaf recipe pictured above and linked to below. If you’ve tasted quinoa before and were put off by a slightly bitter flavor, it’s probably because the raw grains weren’t rinsed before cooking. If you’re cooking them at home, it really does make a difference to take the time and give them a good rinse to remove a naturally-occurring resin called saponin. (Yes, that’s why they make suds as you rinse.) Quinoa cooks exactly like rice, and uses 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. I made this easy recipe for Minted Quinoa with Pine Nuts for Passover this year and it was a hit. It’s a nice, springy dish that pairs *perfectly* with some easy, home-made, casing-free lamb sausages that my husband made after seeing a recipe for them in the New York Times. Consider it a modern spin on the favorite Easter flavor combination of lamb and mint. I also like to use quinoa-based pilafs to stuff vegetables. I’ve made this recipe for Quinoa Stuffed Peppers countless times, and love it because it’s a substantial vegetarian dish that can be served as the ‘entree’ alongside the vegetables of your choice–especially if you melt some cheese on top of it before serving. And as serendipity would have it, one of my favorite gluten-free bloggers has just posted her version of this recipe: Quinoa-stuffed portobello mushrooms.
2. Drink your quinoa? When browsing at a not-at-all fancy local supermarket, I came across a ready-to-drink quinoa beverage called Quinoa Gold. It appears as if they’re aiming to compete in the protein-drink market, which although it sounds odd at first, makes sense: a quinoa beverage would be a clever soy-free alternative to the other protein drinks on the market for people who are allergic/intolerant to soy. Since quinoa (like soy) is a complete source of protein, it’s a perfect source supplemental source of vegetarian protein for people whose diets may not be adequate. As far as the Quinoa Gold-brand drinks themselves, I was a little disappointed to discover that each bottle (2 servings, 320 calories) only contains 4g of protein…. which is not much of a supplement… and 52g of sugar! (That’s the equivalent of 13 teaspoons, my friends.) So to be honest, I like this idea in principle more than in practice. And I’d love to see the scientific evidence behind some of their marketing claims, including that the product “helps manage stress-related hunger.” For the same calories, you could make yourself a protein-rich quinoa smoothie that *will* manage your hunger by actually providing you with some fiber (and lots of vitamins/minerals): in a blender, combine 1/2 cup cooked quinoa flakes (sorta like oatmeal) with 1 cup low-fat milk or coconut water, 1 banana, 1/2 cup frozen berries and 1 TBSP ground flax seeds. Voila!
3. Bake with quinoa flour. There are plenty of ways to use quinoa flour. As a rule, you can substitute up to half of the white all-purpose flour in any recipe with quinoa flour, or all of the whole-wheat flour. Alternatively, if you just want to take your quinoa flour out for a quick spin, try this simple recipe for Quinoa pancakes from Bob’s Red Mill.
4. Use Quinoa flakes in any recipe that calls for rolled oats as a gluten-free alternative in the event that you can’t get your hands on certified GF oats. While most people with celiac disease can tolerate oats just fine, many brands are heavily cross-contaminated with gluten from shared growing and processing facilities. If you’re wary about having a reaction from rolled oats, play it safe and try out quinoa flakes instead. Quinoa flakes also make a nice oatmeal-esque hot breakfast cereal, a killer gluten-free Matzoh ball, and are sold in the oatmeal/hot cereal section of your grocery store.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.