The Duh Factor of Quinoa
I'm hardly new to quinoa, the ancient plant native to the Andes, but I have to admit, it had been a while. But over the weekend, Mister MA and I did a dinner date out on the town, and had the pleasure of sharing a bowl of toasted quinoa to partner with our fish entrees. (He claims it was his quinoa debutante dance.)
It only took a few forkfuls to remember how much I love these nutty, fluffy seeds that pop open almost like tadpoles (a squiggly little comma emerges) when cooked. It's simple fare that cooks up as easily as a pot of rice, but unlike oats, millet or other gruel-style cereals, quinoa is more complex, both nutritionally and gastronomically.
For thousands of years, the Incans have referred to quinoa as "gold" for its uber nutritional content. Not only is it high in protein (about 14 grams per 3.5-ounce serving, uncooked), it's a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids. It's also high in insoluble fiber, the kind we've come to associate with oatmeal, and because it's free of gluten, its become a culinary dream come true for the 1 in 100 people living with celiac disease.
Although it acts like a grain, botanically speaking, quinoa is the seed of a broad-leafed plant related to greens such as spinach, chard, amaranth and lamb's quarters.
The seed pods vary in color, including black, purple, red, yellow-white, any of which you might find on supermarket shelves now that it has become a hip and trendy "superfood." Although most quinoa is grown in high-altitude countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, there is some quinoa being grown in Colorado.
Although I've had my share of quinoa, I had never before toasted it, an extra step that releases oils and deepens the flavor profile. The house smelled like popcorn and peanut butter sandwiches, and I loved how the seeds danced in my cast-iron skillet, taking on a caramel-y hue.
While the seeds were expanding in a few inches of water (stock and juice works equally well), I kept thinking, why? Why had I waited to so long to get reacquainted with quinoa? It is so easy to prepare, it is so nutritious (Was that my brain getting recharged at the dinner table?) and it smells so darn good, I feel like a fool for having denied myself and Mister MA such a virtuous vittle. If there's a no-brainer, snap-to-it side dish, this is it, kids. That's right, I'm saying Duh, I shoulda had me some quinoa....
P.S. Photo at top of page shows quinoa seasoned with diced cucumbers, bell pepper and cherry tomatoes, with a spritz of fresh lemon, a splash of sesame oil and a few tablespoons of soy sauce. The possibilities are endless -- use what's in the crisper.
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1 cup quinoa (available black, red or white)
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Place quinoa in a sieve under running water and rinse a few times to help rid of the saponins, a naturally-occurring pesticide that can be bitter on the tongue.
Thoroughly drain, then place quinoa in a dry (un-oiled) heavy skillet on the stove, over medium heat. With a wooden spoon, stir the quinoa frequently so that it doesn't burn. Toast until deeper in color; you'll notice popping and crackling after three minutes or so.
Remove from skillet and pour into a saucepan with water and salt. Bring up to a boil, then cover and lower heat, cooking at a simmer, for about 12 minutes, or until water is absorbed.
Remove from heat and allow quinoa to rest for a few minutes. Season as you wish -- it loves experimentation -- and serve warm or at room temperature.
One cup makes about six side-dish servings.
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