Quinoa is a quick-cooking seed that has been cultivated for thousands of years in South America. The Incas referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or “mother of all grains.” Not only is quinoa delicious, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. And although it’s not technically a grain because it’s not a member of the grass family, it has all the usual nutrients you’d expect from a whole grain such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
You can find quinoa in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many other good health food stores. It’s usually light yellow in color, but there are also red and black varieties. You prepare all of them the same way, with this simple process:
1. Thoroughly rinse the quinoa in a fine-meshed sieve until the water runs clear. Quinoa has a naturally occurring bitter coating (that deters birds and insects) that must be rinsed off before cooking.
2. Place 1 cup of quinoa in a saucepan. (Be sure you’ve got a pan with a tight fitting lid.)
3. To enhance the nutty flavor of the quinoa, lightly toast it over medium heat for a minute or two.
4. Add 2 cups of water and bring it to the boil.
5. As soon as it reaches a boil, put the lid on, and simmer the quinoa on low heat for 18 minutes or until the water has been completely absorbed.
6. After 18 minutes take the lid off and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Then scoop it onto a plate and allow it cool.
Note: Many recipes recommend letting the quinoa sit covered for up to 5 minutes after it’s cooked. I find this overcooks the grain and makes it mushy instead of light and fluffy the way I like it. Once you’ve done it few times you’ll know exactly how you prefer it.
Once you’ve perfected your quinoa cooking technique, you’ll find that the delicate, slightly crunchy grain is incredibly versatile. You can serve it as a side dish for dinner, as a delicious salad, or even as an alternative to your morning oatmeal.
Quinoa, Roasted Beet, Fennel, & Walnut Salad
Quinoa will stay fresh in your refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Make a big batch and then toss some into a salad–as the recipe below suggests–for the perfect brown bag lunch. To save time, I highly recommend buying prepared beets at your grocery store. You can find them at Trader Joe’s in the refrigerator section.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2-3 small roasted beets, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2-3 large handfuls of arugula
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Salad Dressing Ingredients
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 teaspoons agave
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Prepare your quinoa as indicated above.
2. Then start on the beets: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. While your oven is heating up, wash and roughly chop the beets.
2. Place the beets into a glass baking dish with a small amount of water. (The water will help speed the cooking process because you’ll be steaming and roasting simultaneously.)
3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your beets. (Time-saving tip: If you don’t have time to roast your own beets, many grocery stores now carry prepackaged roasted beets.)
4. While the beets are roasting, chop the fennel and toast the walnuts over low heat.
Combine the fennel, walnuts, arugula, salt and pepper all in a large bowl.
5. Combine all of the salad dressing ingredients, then whisk the oil in at the end to help it emulsify.
6. Toss everything together — the salad ingredients, the cooked quinoa, and the salad dressing. Enjoy!