Quinoa: Super, Super Grain

by in Robin's Healthy Take, March 11, 2013

quinoa salad
Why are scientists calling quinoa a super grain? Because its a whole grain with a low glycemic index, healthy fats (Omega-3′s and Omega-9′s), and a host of phytonutrients, including flavonoids that act as powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. It happens to be gluten free, so even those with gluten sensitivities can enjoy it. Quinoa is also a complete protein, and most grains aren’t because they lack one or more of the 9 essential amino acids necessary to make a complete protein. Pretty super, don’t ya think?

Quinoa is the seed of the chenopodium plant and is related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets. Although there are over 120 species, only three main quinoa varieties are cultivated – gold, red and black. Gold is the most common and boasts a firm texture and subtle, nutty flavor. It’s also easy to prepare (ready in just 15 minutes, like rice). Red is slightly bitter and crunchier than gold and black is sweeter and crunchier than red. Quinoa is incredibly versatile, whether you serve it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and it can easily become a staple in your home.

Tips to get you started:

• Cook quinoa in chicken, beef or vegetable broth for added flavor.
• Don’t overcook it; overcooked quinoa loses its firm texture and slight crunch. When cooked properly (in about 15 minutes), a firm, spiral “tail” will wrap around the softer kernel.
• For a nuttier flavor, before adding the cooking liquid, toast quinoa in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

Add quinoa to your regular menu:

• Add a handful of quinoa to vegetarian chili and vegetable soups for heartier, protein-packed meals.
• Make gluten-free, Middle Eastern tabouli by using quinoa instead of bulgur wheat.
• Use quinoa instead of sticky rice in homemade sushi.
• Replace your morning oatmeal with quinoa and add dried fruit, toasted almonds and cinnamon and a little maple syrup or brown sugar.
• Make quinoa Greek salad by tossing cooked quinoa with Greek olives, crumbled feta cheese, scallions, oregano, olive oil and fresh lemon (juice and zest).
• Sprinkle cooked quinoa over salad greens and baby spinach leaves.
• Make a quinoa pilaf by tossing cooked quinoa with spices, toasted nuts and dried fruits.
• Stuff quinoa salad (quinoa, oil, vinegar, herbs) into hollowed-out tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and bell peppers.

Chipotle-Quinoa Salad With Black Beans, Corn and Cilantro
Note: The first step in the recipe is to rinse the quinoa – this is done to remove saponins, natural plant chemicals that may lend a bitter flavor when cooked.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (beefsteak or Roma/plum)
1 cup frozen white corn, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, chopped
1 lime, juice and zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the quinoa and broth in a medium saucepan and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the grains are translucent, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is ready when the outer germ around each kernel twists to form a little spiral “tail” (the tail should be slightly crunchy while the kernel is soft and springy).

Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and add the black beans, tomatoes, corn, cilantro, scallions, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, 1 teaspoon of the finely grated lime zest, olive oil, chipotle chilies, and cumin. Mix well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled (the salad can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to serve).

Serves 4

Nutrition Info Per Serving
Calories: 324
Total Fat: 8 grams
Saturated Fat: 1 gram
Total Carbohydrate: 53 grams
Sugars: 3 grams
Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 47 milligrams
Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
Fiber: 10 grams

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