Friday, May 27, 2011

The Magic of Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is an amazing little superfood that I'm trying to incorporate more into my diet. I always want to think it's a type of pasta, because it reminds me of risotto, but it is actually a gluten-free seed with a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

Quinoa is perfect for non-meat eaters because it is a complete protein in itself, meaning it provides all eight essential amino acids without needing to combine it with another source of protein, such as legumes, nuts or another type of grain. And it is very versatile. You can eat it as a side dish, a main dish, sprinkled on cereal or in salads, soups, chili, burritos, etc. Quinoa is also a great source of iron, dietary fiber and B vitamins.

I've had a package of organic Nature's Earthly Choice Premium 100% Whole Grain Quinoa hanging out in my kitchen cabinet for a few weeks now. Yesterday afternoon, while I was walking home in the brisk, late-spring air and watching the sunlight spark off Lake Superior, I had the inspiration to make quinoa salad for dinner. We have a ton of spinach and lettuce at my house right now, as well as other fixings for great salads, so my original idea was just to cook and season some quinoa to put on top of a bed of greens.

When I got out the package of quinoa, I saw a simple recipe for Quinoa Pilaf on the back, so I decided to make that instead of just cooking the quinoa plain. I had everything the recipe called for except walnuts and fresh parsley, so I used the recipe as a base and improvised off that.

First, I heated up a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan at medium high heat. Then I cooked half a cup of chopped onion in the oil for about five minutes. The Pilaf recipe I was using didn't call for any seasonings, but I added some of my favorite spices to the onion and oil mixture: turmeric, curry powder, a little coriander, cayenne pepper, and ginger. Then I added carrots and a little more olive oil and cooked for about another four minutes. (The recipe called for two medium carrots, chopped, but I just used baby carrots since that's all we had.) After I added the carrots, which by nature are pretty sweet, the mixture smelled like it was missing a little bit of the bite it had originally, so I threw in a pinch of white pepper.

Next came a cup of the uncooked quinoa and two cups of vegetable broth. Then I brought it to a boil, covered it, and simmered for about fifteen minutes. The end result was a wonderfully flavorful, home-y concoction that made the kitchen smell like Thanksgiving. It actually tasted kind of chicken-y. I think it was the combination of the vegetable broth, carrots and ginger that did it.

I made a bed of green leaf lettuce, spinach, sprouts and a little bit of kale and spooned the quinoa pilaf over it, then sprinkled sunflower seeds on top. It was hugely satisfying, incredibly tasty, and one of those meals that just make you feel good while you're eating it. One helping not only filled me up, but also provided me with good, clean energy for the rest of the evening.

As I said, I plan to increase my quinoa consumption considerably, so there will be more quinoa recipes to come. I'm quite happy with the way this particular dish turned out. In fact, I think I am going to make another salad with the leftovers for my lunch right now!

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