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Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a small, grain-like seed native to the Andes Mountains of South America. It was grown by the Inca people many thousands of years ago, and is often called the “mother grain.” It is not a true cereal grain, but is actually the seed of a plant that is related to beets, Swiss chard and spinach. We call it a grain because it can be prepared and used in the same way as traditional grains. Much of our quinoa comes from South America, but farmers in high-altitude areas near the Rocky Mountains are also beginning to grow it.
Quinoa is very high in protein, a good source of fiber, and provides many nutrients. It’s one of the few plant foods that supply a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t make on their own. That makes it a good choice for vegetarians. It is considered a whole grain food and does not contain gluten. Quinoa comes in a range of colors including tan, red and black and has a mild, slightly nutty flavor. You may find it as an ingredient in breakfast cereals, crackers and pasta, especially those marketed as gluten-free. In your kitchen, it’s great for side dishes, salads and vegetarian entrees, and can be used in baking. It can be cooked like rice and served plain, or sweetened as a hot breakfast cereal.
The seeds should be rinsed in a fine mesh strainer before cooking to remove their bitter, natural pest-fighting coating. To make 3 cups of cooked quinoa, combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the liquid is just barely absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, 2 to 3 minutes for a firm texture that is good for salads, or 5 to 6 minutes for a light, fluffy texture that is ideal for side dishes. When cooked, the grains will look translucent and the white germ will have partly detached, looking like a tiny curl.
To make an easy quinoa-based salad for lunch, combine cooked, cooled quinoa with chopped raw vegetables, cooked or canned kidney or black beans, a little Italian salad dressing and salt and pepper to taste. For dinner, try the recipe for Quinoa-Stuffed Tomatoes from the National Institutes of Health’s We Can! program, found at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/eat-right/qui... And for breakfast, why not try the Hot Breakfast Cereal recipe from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, available at www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/fdns/FDNS-E-104.pdf.
Try quinoa soon — at breakfast, lunch or dinner — it will make a healthy, tasty addition to your family’s diet!
You are invited to join us at the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service on March 27, 2014, 6:00 p.m. for the Test Your Taste Buds, session of the Health Living Series. We will be tasting a variety of different foods and learning how to incorporate them into meal planning. Please call (502) 255- 7188 by March 24th to rsvp for the session.
References: Saulsbury, C. (2012). 500 Best Quinoa Recipes. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.
Summers, E. (2011, March 7). Quinoa - A Super Grain for Health. Retrieved September 13, 2013, from http://burke.ces.ncsu.edu/2011/03/quinoa-a-super-grain-for-health/
Weltman, S. (2013, February 8). Keen on Quinoa (KEEN-wah). Retrieved September 13, 2013, from http://extension.psu.edu/health/news/2013/keen-on-quinoa-keen-wahCall me. I am here this morning.
Source: Debbie Clouthier, Extension Associate for Food and Nutrition, University of Kentucky; College of Agriculture, Food and Environment
Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.