Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of quinoa. I’m sure it’s popping up on your Instagram feed and your local café’s menu. Your trendy fit friend won’t shut up about it and you’re sitting there all confused on how to pronounce it. Well, fret not, for I’m here to shed some light on this super ingredient.
First things first: Quinoa is pronounced ‘keen-wah’. Don’t worry, I’ve been saying it wrong all this time too.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa, although many mistake it for a grain, is actually a seed. It was originally cultivated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia and has been gaining popularity all over the world in recent years. It comes in several varieties including black and red. And while they are all the same nutrition-wise, white is the most common and readily available. The seeds are tiny in size and are to be cooked before eating, similar to rice.
Why should you eat it?
One of the biggest appeals of quinoa is that it is extremely high in protein. It is also a rich source of B vitamins (such as vitamin B6, thiamine and folate), iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also a good source of vitamin E, potassium and calcium. I’m allergic to the term “super food”, but I can see why quinoa has been touted one by so many. Talk about a nutritional powerhouse! It is also naturally gluten free, which makes it a popular choice for people suffering from coeliac disease and gluten intolerances. Most importantly, when cooked properly, quinoa is absolutely delicious.
How should you cook it?
Quinoa seeds have a coating of a bitter-tasting substance called saponin. If you cook it with the saponins still on, you will most likely be unable to eat – it will taste like soap. Most commercially sold quinoa has the saponin rinsed off, but I still strongly recommend giving it a good long wash in a sieve under running water to get rid of every last bit. After rinsing, cook quinoa at a ratio of one part quinoa to one and a half parts liquid, as you would rice. My preferred method is to heat a saucepan on medium-high, add a tablespoon of olive oil then add a cup of rinsed quinoa and toast it for a few minutes – this brings out the beautiful nutty flavor of the seeds and helps prevent them from sticking to each other after being cooked. I then add one and a half cups of water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand, covered for another 10 minutes, before fluffing it up with a fork and eating.
How should you eat it?
Quinoa makes a fabulous substitute for most grains: think rice, couscous, barley and even pasta. Served warm, it is wonderful with a good stir-fry or curry, or as an accompaniment to fish or meat.
Personally, my preferred way to eat quinoa is added to salads. When cooked well (refer to method above), the grains of quinoa tend to remain nice and chewy and individual, making them perfect to add to your favorite salads, soaking up most dressings. Quinoa goes really well with ingredients like avocado, roast veggies and halloumi or feta cheese, as well as dark bitter greens. Make a nice big batch in the beginning of your week and use it in your salads throughout the week.
Another way to eat quinoa is as a breakfast cereal. Make porridge out of quinoa like you would oats or rice using your milk of choice. Sweeten it with a little honey (maybe add some spices like cinnamon) and top with fresh fruits and nuts for a healthy, delicious and filling breakfast.