Healthy quinoa gaining popularity

“Quee-no-wa,”Ann explained. “It is like a rice, or maybe like sesame seeds. It’s good but different. It might, like, be their rice.”

Several years ago, my cousin visited South America. Upon her return, she entertained me with the different foods that she had encountered. I remember picturing the Inca Indians sitting around their irregular fieldstone buildings, supping on this exotic meal. I even told my students about “quee-no-wa,” the Ecuadorian grain.

Not as many years ago, my daughter brought “keen-wa” and roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner. I was intrigued but, too proud, I didn’t ask her what it was.

“Oh,” I said, and looked at the package. “You mean ‘quee-NO-wa.'” She gave me that “Mom” look. I then went to Google.

Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wa,” is a “happening” food item today. New to the American food scene, it is gaining popularity with the possibility of soon becoming a staple. It is good for breakfast. It is good for lunch. It is good for dinner. It is good for you.

Quinoa is a simple seed, not a grain, from a South American plant. It has been a staple in Equator and Bolivia before Columbus discovered America. Today America has discovered Quinoa.

If you haven’t tasted it yet, please do. It is now readily available in the health food section of your grocery and at our local Mohawk Harvest, and at any other health food stores worth visiting.

I’m often a little suspicious of anything that gets touted as a “superfood,” but in this case I could be wrong. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared 2013 as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all eight essential amino acids that are needed to sustain human life and growth. This is unique as this complete set of amino acids is commonly found mostly in animal products or a combination of plant foods. A pseudo-cereal, Quinoa belongs to the same family as spinach and beets, with the nutritional benefits as well. But this is only one reason why this little gem is so popular.

Quinoa is delicious. Its nutty flavor combines well with other foods.

I love the texture, which is a little like barley with its chewiness. It also has a light fluffiness akin to well-prepared couscous.

Quinoa is versatile: It can be substituted for the starch at any meal, served hot or cold. It comes whole, in flakes or most popularly seed form. Quinoa adds to the food presentation as it comes in different colors. The most common is white, but there are also red and black.

It is the answer to many diets and food concerns: It will complete a vegan diet and add to a vegetarian diet. It is high in fiber and low in fat, low in salt, low in sugar and low in calories. It is all natural. It is gluten free, wheat free, peanut free and dairy free.

Although not currently a “local” product, Colorado is experimenting with raising two varities.

It is easy to prepare: If you can make rice, you can make Quinoa.

The basic recipe below, compliments of Whole Foods Stores, serves four and makes about four cups.

Ingredients: 1 cup quinoa, 2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Note: Most commercial quinoa is washed, but some may need to be washed again to remove the outer bitter shell.

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve until water runs clear; drain and transfer to a medium pot. Add water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside off the heat for five minutes; uncover and fluff with a fork.

Below I have chosen my favorite variations, to show Quinoa’s versatility.

Quinoa main dish or salad or side dish or breakfast porridge: To the cooked quinoa add cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, cup dark red cherries, cranberries, currants or raisins, cup pistachios, pecans or walnuts. Fluff lightly to mix. If served cold add head radicchio thinly sliced, or cabbage, mangoes or oranges. If served warm add cooked broccoli or onions.

Serving quinoa to customers or at home to family is the “new age” thing to do. It will impress all, especially if you say it right.

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