Kitchen Adventures: Keen on Quinoa

The grain with the funny name

On my newly-vegan colleague/friend Mr. Smith’s recommendation, I picked up a box of quinoa at Trader Joe’s last weekend, just to see what the fuss is all about. Everyone keeps telling me how awesome this stuff is–not only in terms of taste, but also in terms of health benefits, and after actually trying it and reading up on it, I can confidently say that quinoa is going to be a mainstay on my pantry shelf.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way first. “Quinoa” can be pronunced KEEN-wah, or kee-NO-ah, depending on who you talk to, and its name borrows from the Spanish spelling of the Quechua word kinwa. Apparently, the Incas were the first to revere quinoa as a supergrain, but the Spanish all but banned its cultivation, essentially calling it a heathen food.In fact, growing it was punishable by death under Spanish colonial rule. I know Spaniards are partial to their paella, but damn, Gina! No need to go around killing people for growing a plant!

Things didn’t look so hot for this ancient grain until some clever folks in the Colorado Rockies region started growing and selling it commercially in the 1980s. It’s enjoyed a resurgence in popularity not only among the health food set, but also mainstream consumers, thanks to the grain’s status as a “superfood.”

What’s so super about quinoa is that it has a balanced set of amino acids, and has more protein than its other grainy friends–about 12 percent to 20 percent. It’s also gluten-free, easy to digest, and has tons of fiber and phosphorus (which helps bone growth and cell/tissue repair), as well as magnesium and iron.

And here’s an added bonus–it’s one of the superfoods that supposedly give you the most bang for your buck, according to this article by personal finance site LearnVest.

It’s also easy to cook, as I learned last night when I decided to give it a go. All you need to do is dump in 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid (I used chicken stock, but you can use water or another kind of broth), cover it, and let it simmer for 15 minutes or so. The result is a fluffy pile of curlicued grains that have a distinct nutty smell. It’s also versatile–you can pretty much add any kind of veggie to the quinoa while it’s cooking to add some palate-pleasing interest.

One thing I learned, though, is that you really have to rinse off the quinoa before doing anything with it, because the grains have a bitter saponin coating. My quinoa didn’t turn out very bitter, but I could definitely smell it a bit.

For those who are curious, I was going to take a picture of my crimini mushroom and shallot quinoa pilaf, but Dr. J and I ate it so fast, I forgot to snap a shot. Oops. It was scrumptious. For reference, you can find the recipe here on Food Network.

This is what it more or less looked like, though:

Yum! (via Food Network)

Word to the wise–quinoa wreaks havoc on your braces. I had some last night and I’m still finding bits and pieces hiding in brackets and rubber bands even after a few thorough brushings. (TMI, I know, but I serve to inform.)

Of course, that won’t be a problem for me much longer, since tomorrow I’m finally getting these braces off! No more post-adjustment meals of mashed potatoes, ice cream and macaroni and cheese–no more  incessant picking and brushing of the teeth. It sort of feels like I’m getting out of jail or something.  Naturally, I’m planning on eating as much caramel, pizza crusts, nuts and popcorn as humanly possible following my debanding appointment.

Watch out! Foodzilla is on the loose!

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Filed under adventures in grocery shopping, Food, kitchen adventures, life with braces

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