Have you discovered quinoa yet?
Go ahead, say it with me — Keen-wah
This ancient South American grain the Incas called “the mother of all grains” has become increasingly popular here in the U.S. since it was introduced in the 1990′s. We first discovered quinoa a couple of years ago when searching for alternatives to wheat for our daughter who is gluten-intolerant, so we are slow getting to the party. It has a pleasant texture, similar to couscous, and unlike some whole grains that seem a little too earthy, quinoa is mildly rice-like and doesn’t compete with other ingredients allowing subtle flavor profiles to come through.
What is it?
Though thought of as a grain, it is technically the fruit or seed of the Goosefoot plant, a member of the same food family as spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. Its rise in popularity is due in part to being sought by vegetarians as it is a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids, and those looking for gluten-free alternatives to wheat. Quinoa is also ground into flour for a bread and pasta products, which we have found to have superior taste and texture to rice pasta. The two pasta brands I highly recommend are Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta and Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta (no, I was not compensated to mention these).
Check out more nutritional information about quinoa here at The World’s Healthiest Foods.
How to prepare it:
Most recipes I have seen recommend a 2:1 ratio of water to quinoa and only a 15 minute cooking time, which nearly turned me off to it entirely. This cooking method was unpredictably soggy at times as well as having an odd crunchy sort of “pop” to the texture that was not appealing to anyone around our table. In my continued search for better quinoa, I found the blog Cooking Quinoa with instructions for “how to cook quinoa perfectly.” Wendy was right; it turns out perfectly fluffy every time with a tender chew more akin to rice or pastas like couscous, which pleased everyone in our family.
Also noteworthy …
♦ Naturally coated with saponins, it is important to rinse quinoa before cooking to remove any bitterness. Though some are sold pre-washed and the package will indicate that, it is a good idea to rinse prior to cooking to remove any remaining residue.
♦ In most grocery stores you can find red and golden quinoa, but in some specialty markets you may also find black, orange, pink and purple shades as well. The color does not affect cooking time or texture to any noticeable degree, but pigment may change slightly once cooked.
♦ Quinoa expands almost three times its size when cooked.
1 cup uncooked quinoa = 4 cups cooked
1 cup uncooked pasta = 2 cups cooked
1 cup uncooked rice = 3 cups cooked
Ready to start savoring?
In this recipe I used both red and golden quinoa to add a confetti effect to the dish, but you can use just one type if you like. Start by preparing the quinoa combo to fluffy perfection and then mix-in caramelized onion and fennel (I still think about that pizza), sautéed zucchini and red bell pepper, and top it off with crisp prosciutto. It is a side dish that goes well with grilled or roasted meats and rewarms beautifully for lunches throughout the week as a meal all its own. Although I think the caramelized onion and fennel are a must here, you can choose any number of other vegetables to toss into the mix—oh, and don’t skip the prosciutto, it lends a salty-savory-studded crunch that takes this dish over the top!