What is Quinoa & How To Cook It

Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen­wah’ if you’re pernickety about these things) is actually a seed but is generally considered a whole grain and is prepared in a similar way (think barley or rice).  It has traditionally been grown and eaten by the indigenous people of the Andes region of South America for thousands of years, with Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia being the major producers. In recent years, quinoa has gained prominence in the U.S. Europe, Australia and Japan for three main reasons:­

  • It is gluten free and can be used as a substitute carb food for those pursuing a wheat free diet.
  • It’s a ‘superfood’ – whilst superfood is a marketing term with little nutritional meaning quinoa is nutritionally ‘intense’ with the United Nations declaring 2013 the ‘International year of Quinoa . It is thought of as a wholegrain so it is high in fibre – another essential element of a healthy diet.
  • It is a complete protein as, although it isn’t particularly high in protein, it contains all nine essential amino acids the human body cannot manufacture itself, which makes it ideal for vegetarians and vegans who can struggle to include them in their diet.

Quinoa is grown in traditional white – the one most commonly found in supermarkets, red – crunchier and slightly more bitter in flavour, and black – harder to cultivate and not commonly available in the UK ­ varieties. Health food stores now stock quinoa flour and quinoa flakes which can be used in baking, although it isn’t advisable to cook regular recipes with solely quinoa flour – better to substitute some of the regular flour.

So now we know how good it is for us, how do we cook it??

Quinoa can be eaten on its own ­ cook in water or stock for 10 to 15 minutes, season and serve.  Or, with it’s mild, nutty flavour, it can be used as a substitute for rice in a salad – add a tin of drained flaked tuna, a finely chopped onion, chopped green and red peppers to cooked quinoa and season to taste.  It can be used in pilaf or biryani recipes too, just adjust cooking times accordingly.

Quinoa can be used like any other whole grain;

  • add a handful to soups where you would use barley,
  • Cook with milk (soya milk or similar if you are vegan) and serve with fresh fruit, honey, nuts and seeds as an alternative to porridge.

Like tofu, quinoa pairs well with other foods and flavours so can be used to supplement meat in burgers, meatballs, meatloaf etc, providing a protein boost whilst reducing saturated fat.

Swapping quinoa for pasta in macaroni cheese increases the protein and fibre content whilst still keeping the major cheese hit – great for children’s teatimes.

You can even add cooked quinoa to American style pancake recipes, swap for half the oats in

flapjacks and use in cookies.

There really is no end to the versatility of this ‘ancient grain’.

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