Serve it at any meal
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Gluten-free; high in magnesium, iron, and other nutrients; and easy to digest, quinoa adds flavour to any meal. Try our recipes for granola and hearty stews and wraps.
Once an obscure grain in Canada, South American quinoa has now become the “it” whole grain as word spreads of its nutritional might, versatility in the kitchen, and speedy cooking time.
Though nearly wiped out by the conquering Spanish, the Incas dubbed quinoa as “the mother grain” and considered it a sacred food staple as well as necessary fuel for their armies. Indeed, this poster child of gluten-free grains is a nutritional giant. The range of nutrients quinoa possesses includes protein, iron, phosphorus, zinc, folate, and magnesium.
A 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that higher intakes of magnesium can help diminish one’s risk for colon cancer. Quinoa delivers plenty of fibre to keep you feeling full, while its ease of digestion makes it a good dietary choice for those with sensitive tummies. It’s also been lauded for its high amino acid content making it a valuable vegetarian protein source.
Beyond its gastronomic and nutritional cachet, quinoa is also a sustainable crop, growing in harsh, high-altitude Andean conditions with few water or chemical inputs. Yet most people don’t use quinoa in the kitchen to its full potential. Beyond salads or a basic side dish, these recipes show that this mighty grain can help nourish your day from breakfast to dessert by anchoring a wide range of dishes.
Cooking With Quinoa
To prepare about 3 cups (750 mL) cooked grain, bring 1 cup (250 mL) quinoa and 2 cups (500 mL) water or broth to a boil in medium-sized saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 12 minutes, or until tender. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid and fluff with a fork.
When the whole seeds are cooked, the small tail of the germ whimsically spirals outward, which is an indicator that the grain is cooked. Overcooking can result in a mushy unappetizing texture. Swapping out water for other cooking liquids such as broth, orange juice, apple cider, or coconut water can add new flavour nuances.
To lend quinoa a wonderful nutty flavour, toast the dry grains in a skillet or heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until golden brown, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Add liquid and cook.
A protective coating on quinoa, called saponin, can produce a bitter flavour. In the past most cooking instructions suggested giving quinoa a good rinse prior to cooking to remove the saponin; however, most of it is now washed off during commercial processing, so rinsing is optional. If you want to be sure, rinse quinoa under cold water for about 20 seconds in a fine mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth.
The diminutive, oval-shaped seeds are now available in beige, red, and black hues. Try mixing them together to add dramatic presentation to mealtime. The pigments that provide red and black quinoa with their fetching hues could very well be disease-thwarting antioxidants similar to those present in colourful fruits. To maintain freshness, it’s best to store quinoa seeds in the refrigerator, preferably in a glass jar or container with a tight-fitting lid.
Milled from quinoa seeds, this ivory-coloured nutritious flour has a slightly sesame and grassy flavour with the same texture as whole wheat flour. For some, the flavour of quinoa flour can be overwhelming at first, so start by using only one-quarter to one-third of the flour a recipe calls for with it, and work up from there.
The lack of gluten in quinoa flour can produce slightly denser baked goods. You can make your own quinoa flour by grinding the grains in a food processor or spice grinder, but the texture will likely be coarser than store-bought. Store in the refrigerator or freezer for maximum freshness.
The flakes are made by passing the whole quinoa through a roller to flatten the seeds. With a similar texture as rolled oats, quinoa flakes make for a great breakfast cereal when paired with spices, nuts, seeds, and fruits. Also try them in crisp recipes or blend into your favourite smoothies for a nutrient boost. Look for quinoa flakes in health food stores or well-stocked bulk shops.