Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why all the hype about quinoa??

quinoa 101
It's time for another installment in the Whole Grains 101 series, and this time the focus is on quinoa. Quinoa has become popular lately and, although I'm not sure why the public decided to focus on it over other grains, I'm glad to see people excited about something other than wheat, corn, and rice. The most difficult thing about quinoa is learning to pronounce it (it's 'keen-wa'). I've been correcting my parents for over a year now, and they still call it 'kwin-oh-a'. I suppose that I should give up at this point and let them mispronounce it... at least they're eating it.

What is quinoa?

Ok, so first off quinoa isn't actually a grain (it's actually the seed of a plant related to dark leafy greens), but it's usually used as one, so I'll include it anyway. Quinoa was originally grown by the Incas, but it has recently become popular in the U.S., particularly among vegetarians, because it's considered a complete protein.

There are three main colors of quinoa: ivory, red, and black. Ivory is the easiest to find, but red and black usually also show up on the shelves of natural foods stores. Quinoa is a small "grain," similar in size to millet. My favorite thing about quinoa is its unique look after it's cooked - the seeds each have a pale ring around them that often falls off.

What does quinoa taste like and how is it used?

By itself, quinoa doesn't have a very distinct flavor, which makes it ideal for absorbing strong flavors that are cooked with it. It becomes fluffy when cooked, and it can be used in just about any recipe that calls for rice or millet. I've seen it in everything from breakfast porridge to salads to cookies. Quinoa flour can also be used to make gluten-free baked goods, but it has the tendency to be somewhat bitter, so it's often used in small quantities.

Where do you buy and store it?

Because of quinoa's popularity, it can be found at most grocery stores, usually with the rice. However, I typically buy it from the bulk bins at natural foods stores because it tends to be somewhat cheaper and I can get the amount that I want. Occasionally I have seen red quinoa in bulk bins, but usually red and black varieties are only sold in prepackaged containers. Quinoa can also be ordered online at various websites, such as Bob's Red Mill.

If you have room in the refrigerator or freezer, store your quinoa in there in an airtight container. If not, keep it at room temp but try to use it within six months (but again, make sure it's in an airtight container). If you cook a big batch of quinoa, it stores well in the refrigerator for a week or so and in the freezer for virtually forever.

How do you cook it?

Although I rinse most of my grains, this step is critical when cooking quinoa because it has a bitter coating which must be washed off. This can be a pain in the neck because quinoa is so small (you'll need a very fine mesh strainer), but please don't skip this step.

Quinoa cooks rather quickly, just like millet. First, bring 2 cups of water or stock to a boil in a saucepan, and then add 1 cup of quinoa and let the liquid return to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed (about 15 min). Let it sit in the covered pot for a few minutes, and then fluff with a fork and serve. This will yield about 4 cups of cooked quinoa.

My recipes using quinoa

Other great quinoa recipes
Warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa from 101 Cookbooks
Quinoa breakfast bowl from eating/sf
Quinoa raisin muffins from Dani Spies
Feeling snacky: crunchy stalks and branches from Diet, Dessert and Dogs
Roasted tomato and black bean quinoa salad from Eating well... living thin
Pineapple and cashew quinoa from The Reluctant Vegetarian
Heather's quinoa from 101 Cookbooks
Carribean beans and quinoa from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
Delicious big bowl - quinoa from 101 Cookbooks
Hippie loaf from Happy Herbivore


Mansi said...

Very informative post. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Nice photo. Very clean and crisp.

I've only tried cooking quinoa in my rice cooker, and not too happy with that method. Gotta try in a regular saucepan. I do like the taste of it though, kinda nutty.

Katie said...

Mansi - I'm glad it was helpful! Let me know if there are other things that would be helpful to add to this post or to include in future posts about whole grains.

Alta - Thanks! I'm still working on my photography skills, but occasionally one looks fairly decent.

I've heard good things about cooking quinoa in rice cookers, but haven't tried it myself. I bet it varies depending on your quinoa and your climate. You should definitely give it a go in a saucepan, though - it works extremely well for me.

Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

I love quinoa, especially for its high protein content! Haven't had good luck in the rice cooker either, but don't care bc it cooks fast in a pot. :-)

Katie said...

Michelle - I agree - it cooks so quickly in a pot that I haven't bothered trying any other methods. I wonder why some people swear by the rice cooker and it won't work for others (maybe altitude??).