Revered by ancient Incas as “the mother of all grains” and hailed by modern nutritionists as the “supergrain of the future,” quinoa (KEEN-wah) has been cultivated in the Andes for more than 6,000 years. Since it’s not a grass, it’s technically not a grain. But it looks like a grain and cooks like a grain, so the food world calls it a grain.
Quinoa’s surge in popularity is due to its tremendous nutritional value. Its high protein content (12 to 18 percent) outranks other grains. What’s more, it’s one of the few vegetarian foodstuffs considered to be a complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids. Compared to other grains, it’s high in unsaturated fat and low in carbohydrates. It’s a great source of fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorous. And if that’s not enough to recommend it, quinoa is also gluten-free and widely considered Kosher for Passover. Relish Cooking Show Chef Brian Morris touches on these benefits:
Because the quinoa plant is hardy and undemanding, NASA is considering growing it on extended space missions. But official agencies weren’t always so friendly. Early Spanish conquerors in South America denigrated it as “food for Indians” and actively suppressed its growth due to its sacred status in non-Christian religious rituals.
Quinoa cooks like rice. But go easy: Quinoa cooks much faster than rice and swells to four times its original volume. Before cooking, rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Quinoa’s delicate taste is often compared to couscous, and it’s a great choice for salads and pilafs. To bring out the nutty flavor, toast quinoa in a dry pan or with a little butter before cooking.
The possible for preparation are endless. From salads to soups to main course servings, quinoa can be a star in just about anything. Listed below are six of our favorite recipes.
— By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.