Most Valuable Ingredient: Quinoa
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Quinoa has been called the “miracle grain” because it achieves the trifecta of culinary perfection: It’s nutritious, satisfying and easy to prepare. Best of all, you can make a bowl of cooked quinoa and store it in the fridge all week, a boon to many meals to come. A staple in South America for centuries, it should become one in your kitchen, too.
- Quinoa is an ancient food from high in the Andes, grown by the Incas long before the Spanish arrived on the scene. Quinoa thrives in frigid, desert-like, high-altitude environments — places that would be the death of almost all other grains.
- Although called a grain, quinoa is actually the seed of specific plants in the goosefoot family — a group of plants that includes spinach and chard.
- Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain. Ounce per ounce, it has more calcium than milk. Plus, quinoa is a great source of manganese, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. All that, and quinoa is gluten-free, too!
- Quinoa cooks really fast, in just minutes — a great whole grain for busy weeknights.
- You’ll most often find two types of quinoa at the store: red or white (sometimes also called “yellow” quinoa).
- Black quinoa is a rarity, usually found only in health-food stores.
- Quinoa can also be ground into a flour for use in reduced-gluten or even gluten-free baking and cooking.
- Quinoa is fairly mild-tasting with a slight nuttiness, maybe even a little grassy like wild rice.
- In truth, quinoa is all about the texture: great crunch and pop in every bite. Consider it the caviar of whole grains!
- Individual quinoa grains are tiny, smaller than wheat berries, barley, or even millet grains. When cooked, the quinoa germ unfurls to form a small, translucent halo around the grain.
- Because quinoa is so high in polyunsaturated fats, it can go rancid rather quickly and should be stored in the fridge for up to 4 months. If possible, buy it from a health-food store or gourmet market where there’s a high turnover of product on the shelves. Quinoa flour should be stored in the freezer.
- Although quinoa flour is by nature gluten-free, it may be processed in a facility that also processes wheat and other gluten-laden grains. If important, check the manufacturer's website to make sure yours is made in a gluten-free facility.
- As they develop, quinoa seeds coat themselves with a natural insect repellent called saponin — which has a bitter, soapy taste. Most quinoa sold in the United States is prewashed to remove the saponin.
- If your pot of quinoa has a soapy film on top, the grains were not properly prewashed. Drain repeatedly and wash these seeds thoroughly before continuing to cook.
- That said, all quinoa, even the prewashed kind, should be rinsed in a fine-mesh colander before cooking to remove any saponin dust that may still adhere to the seeds.
- Toasting the raw seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for a minute or two will enhance their nutty flavor. But be careful: Quinoa is one of the few whole grains that will pop over high heat!
- Substitute a small mound of cooked quinoa for the starch at any meal — in place of rice, pasta, couscous or potatoes.
- To cook quinoa, mix 2 parts water to 1 part raw quinoa in a saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork.