Mixing up your grains and getting different varieties into your diet is a great way to reduce the amount of wheat you consume and give yourself a range of nutrients, and if there is one ‘alternative grain’ that most people are familiar with these days, it’s quinoa. It may even, dare I say it, be verging on mainstream, which is a wonderful thing considering it’s gluten-free and high in protein – a claim very few true grains can make.
But why are we going nuts for quinoa – what’s all the fuss about? Quinoa is not actually a grain; it is a seed originating from the Andes region of South America cultivated by the ancient Incas. It is pronounced ‘keen-wah’ (you can now shout it from the rooftops with confidence!), and it provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It is also rich in lysine, which promotes healthy tissue growth, and is an excellent source of vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fibre; that’s one pretty impressive little seed!
But why are we going nuts for quinoa – what’s all the fuss about?
Even better, for all of us who are time-poor, it takes far less time to cook than other grains – never more than 15 minutes from start to finish.
You must remember to wash quinoa before cooking to remove its bitter protective coating (even if the packaging says ‘pre-rinsed’, run it under the tap just to be sure) and then I recommend toasting quinoa before boiling it to intensify its nutty flavour. The easiest way to do this is to heat a tablespoon of coconut oil or olive oil in a frying pan over low heat for a minute, then add your quinoa and toast it for five minutes.
Next, add your preferred liquid (water or vegetable stock), bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer it for 10–15 minutes, until it’s cooked to your liking. When it comes to the liquid/quinoa ratio there are as many opinions as there are recipes, but I find the safest and easiest ratio to stick to is 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of liquid. However, if you like a crunchier consistency, use a bit less liquid or vice-versa.
The final thing to say about quinoa is: when you cook a batch, always double your quantities because it is the easiest ingredient to store in the fridge. Use it in porridges and salads to or as an accompaniment stir-fries and stews. And it freezes perfectly so even if you don’t use it right away, you can store it in the freezer for a rainy day. ‘Keen-wah’ saves the day!
Here are five great ideas for what you can make with quinoa:
- Add to a delicious salad such as Green Quinoa or a Summer Quinoa Salad.
- For a hearty dinner, use quinoa to stuff in to courgettes for a hearty, wholesome filling.
- Toast your quinoa [see here] to add a really nutty flavour and use in a quinoa breakfast bowl with broccoli, steamed greens, sautéed mushrooms, grated cheese, a seasoning of salt and pepper, topped with a poached egg.
- Another delicious breakfast is to serve quinoa with scrambled eggs and chia seeds, chopped avocado and a squeeze of lemon over the top. Seasoned to perfection, it is also delicious with some tomato salsa if you have any leftover.
- Add to healthy burritos as a wholesome, delicious filling.