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What the Heck Is Quinoa?

Quinoa, (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is a crop that originates in the Andean Mountains of South America. It is a scrubby, brushy plant with edible grain-like seeds that are most often boiled until soft. The texture of boiled or steamed quinoa is light and fluffy, which causes frequent comparisons with rice or couscous. It has a stronger, nuttier flavor than either rice or couscous, however, and a character all its own.

Because it’s a hardy plant that grows well in high elevations, quinoa was an important staple crop to the Andean Mountain dwellers prior to European colonization.

Health Benefits of Quinoa

Unlike most plant-based foods, quinoa contains a complete amino acid mix, making it a rich source of protein. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. One of the reasons it has gained in popularity in recent years is that it is gluten-free, so it’s ideal for people with wheat allergies or sensitivity.

In its raw state, quinoa has a coating of saponin, bitter-tasting chemicals that foam up like soap in water. Saponin may be slightly toxic, and some have reported experiencing numbness in their lips or tongue after eating unwashed quinoa. Most quinoa sold in North America is processed to remove this coating, though, so you probably won’t have to worry about it if you make it at home. You’ll be able to tell if there is saponin on your quinoa if a soapy looking foam appears when you submerge the seeds in water. If your quinoa does become sudsy in water, simply soak it for a few hours, then rinse it until the water is clear.

How Do You Prepare Quinoa?

To prepare quinoa, you can either boil it like rice, with two cups of water for every cup of dry seeds or steam it in a rice cooker. It makes a great addition to soups, stews, curries, and vegetable dishes, and can also be eaten with fruit or honey for a sweet dessert or breakfast. When ground into flour, quinoa makes a delicious, and easy-to-digest wheat substitute.

Zesty Tex-Mex Quinoa

2 teaspoons grated lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup quinoa
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Wash the quinoa, if needed. In a medium, boil quinoa in two cups of water and a pinch of salt until tender and fluffy. In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add quinoa to the dressing and toss until fully combined, then stir in remaining ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.

Taj Mahal Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp. grated ginger root
1/2 fresh green chilies, finely chopped
1 heaping tsp. turmeric
1 heaping tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
Salt to taste

Wash the quinoa, if needed. Place oil and diced onions in a heavy saucepan. Sauté the onions on medium high heat for about five minutes. Add the ginger root, chilies, and quinoa. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and salt. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
Add the water and bring it to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the peas. Cover and cook until peas are tender and all the water has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Quinoa Delight

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 cups apple juice
1 cup raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Salt to taste

Wash the quinoa, if necessary, then place it in a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover the pan with a lid, lower heat, and allow to simmer about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Mix in apple juice, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Cover pan and allow to simmer for 15 minutes longer. Stir in vanilla extract. Serve warm.

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  • Debz says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing these recipes! Never tried Quinoa but now I have a couple of recipes that sound good for my first time eating it! Thanks again! 🙂

  • Debz says:

    I have never eaten Quinoa, but I do need to try it. I have Celiac’s and am trying to find a variety of foods that is gluten free. Can you make bread out of Quinoa? I am having a hard time finding a gluten-free bread that I like. Do you have any bread recipes using Quinoa?

  • Jennifer Foster says:

    Thanks so much for the info. Someone gave me some and it has been sitting on a shelf. At least now I have some idea of what it can be used for.

  • Shari Brown says:

    Where can you purchase Quinoa? Is this readily available in the midwest? I live in central Mo.

  • susie hamilton says:

    thank you so much. I really needed this information prior to purchase. The recipes give me a great way to use the quinoa.

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