Quinoa, Will You Be My Valentine?

So, I have developed a bit of a crush on quinoa (keen-wah), and I think I may be falling in love!   quinoa variety

“What is quinoa,” you ask.  It is the tiny seed that has been a staple in the diet of South American cultures for more than 5000 years, including the Incas.  Have you ever noticed that ancient civilizations and even our grandparents and great-grandparents knew just as much (if not more) than we do – they just didn’t have the technology to explain the “why” and “how” behind what they knew.  Well, in America we are just recently catching on to the benefits of this ancient grain and the variety of uses for quinoa in the kitchen.  Quinoa comes in three varieties – traditional, red, and black.  Quinoa technically  is not a grain, because it is the edible seed of a plant that is not in the grass family from which traditional cereal grains, like wheat, are derived.  It is still referred to and treated as a whole grain.  Quinoa is superior to other grains as a source of protein, delivering all of the essential amino acids that your body needs.  It is, therefore, considered a complete protein source.  Quinoa is known as the “mother grain” and has been called the “super grain of the future.”

Why am I falling in love with quinoa?  Have you ever eaten food that literally changes your mood as you process the flavors that hit your palate?  Well, I tried two fabulous quinoa recipes today that literally brightened my day.  The burst of crisp brightness from the lemon olive-oil dressing, fresh herbs, colorful vegetables, and tangy feta cheese danced in my mouth when I took my first bites and made me truly happy, energized and excited about sharing that experience with others.  To me, creating and sharing a feeling and experience is what cooking and feeding others is about.

Today was a cold and rainy day in Charlotte, but the sun was shining in my mouth for a brief time this afternoon!

Please try these simple quinoa recipes and tell me whether the colors on your mood ring change:

herbed quinoaHerbed Quinoa w/ Lemon Herb Olive-Oil Dressing – yields approximately 8-10 servings (1/2 cup).  See recipe for nutritional data and note that the serving size in the posted recipe is about 1 cup.

quinoasalad Quinoa Saladyields approximately 6-8 servings (1/2 cup).  See recipe for nutritional data and note that the serving size in the posted recipe is about 1/2 cup.

A couple of quick tips for executing these recipes:

  1. Quinoa expands 3-4 times its size when cooked, so 1 cup of uncooked quinoa should yield about 4 cups of cooked quinoa.  A serving size for an accompaniment is about 1/2 cup.  You can serve more if the quinoa is the main feature of your meal.
  2. Be sure to cool the quinoa completely before adding dressing or other ingredients.
  3. Try a variation of the Quinoa Salad recipe by substituting the Lemon Herb Olive-Oil dressing from the Herbed Quinoa recipe for the garlic balsamic dressing.

So, are you wondering where to find quinoa?  A recent focus on increasing the use of whole grains in the American diet, finding healthy protein sources for vegetarian diets, and finding gluten-free alternatives has brought ancient grains like quinoa to the forefront.  Twenty years ago the potential for growth of the quinoa market in North American was recognized.  In the last six years or so the market for quinoa has grown tremendously and it is now more common place and accessible to consumers (although at a higher price than in its unpopular days).  You can find quinoa at your local grocery stores like Harris Teeter and even Target Superstores.  And these nutritional gold mines have found their way onto the plates of many restaurants around the country, offering us a healthy and exciting alternative to the usual starchy accompaniments of pasta, rice and potatoes.  For example, Luce, a local Charlotte Italian restaurant, offers quinoa on its lunch and dinner menus as an accompaniment in chicken and stuffed pepper dishes: Luce menus.

There are recipes for sushi, desserts, pancakes, salads and more using quinoa.  Quinoa is even made into flour, flakes and pastas for a gluten-free alternative to wheat products.  So, start thinking about how you can change the face of your plate because there are thousands of ways to cook with quinoa.

I will continue to explore my new relationship with quinoa in my own kitchen and I will send you more great recipes to try!


3 thoughts on “Quinoa, Will You Be My Valentine?”

  1. Gee, I can hardly wait to hit the grocery store tomorrow with recipe in hand. It’s been rainy here in Durham for 2 days and I’m ready to put some sunshine in my mouth! Thanks a million.

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