From the back shelves of the supermarkets to one of the most popular health foods on the planet – quinoa’s progress is truly remarkable, and yet easy to understand. Its nutritional benefits, nutty flavor and fluffy texture have made this grain the most sought for replacement for less healthy starchy foods like rice and pasta.
Quinoa is not a new discovery. It has been used for over 3000 years, first in the Andean region where this crop is indigenous. Andean peoples considered quinoa to be a sacred plant and called it “mother of all grains”. Later, its use and cultivation were suppressed by conquistadors who despised this grain due to its use in native religious ceremonies.
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This nutritional powerhouse made a great come-back in the 1950s when it was called ‘a superstar’ food. However, its sharp rise in popularity has begun in the 21st century, culminating in 2013, declared ‘The year of quinoa’ by the United nations. And even though 2013 is behind us, quinoa’s domination does not seem to fade.
What Type of Quinoa is the Best?
Quinoa is actually not a grain, but a seed. Botanically it is a relative to beets and spinach, but we only consume the plant’s seed and prepare in them in the same manner as whole grains.
Official data states that there are about 120 quinoa varieties, but according to unofficial information, the number reaches over 1800! The most widely used varieties are white, black, and red quinoa.
The white variety is most widely available in supermarkets and healthy food stores. It is most neutral in taste and flavor and, for that reason, most commonly used.
The red and black variations are slightly crunchier and chewier than their white counterpart and very often used in salads to add some color pop. They also slightly differ in taste as they are sweeter and earthier.
Other Quinoa Products
Food companies are taking advantage of the quinoa frenzy and in addition to the well-known quinoa flakes and flour, you will find a number of other products made of this nutritious grain, like bread, chocolate bars, energy bars, whiskey, chips, cereals, pasta, and more! It is important to note, however, that some of these products are processed and probably do not contain all the beneficial nutrients of the grain.
On the plus side, making your own 100% healthy quinoa flour is very simple. Start by toasting one or two cups of this grain in a skillet for about five minutes. Once the grains begin to pop, start stirring and keep the skillet on the heat for another minute or so. Transfer to a food processor and mix on a high speed until it gets powdery.
Nutritional Benefits of Quinoa
This ancient grain owns its huge popularity to the unique nutritional profile, which makes it a potent healing superfood.
Quinoa is gluten-free, which makes it ideal for people who are following a gluten-free diet and especially for those suffering from gluten sensitivity.
Packed with protein. To be more precise, this grain is one of the few foods on the planet which contains all the nine essential amino acids, including lysine, which makes it a complete protein, very similar to animal-sourced proteins.
High in fiber. The type of fiber found in this ancient grain is water-soluble, crucial for keeping the digestive system in good health, but also for increasing the meal volume. Fiber produces a feeling of satiety, resulting in reduced appetite and, eventually, decreased body weight.
Contains good fats. In addition to not containing any trans-fats, most of the fat in this superfood is monounsaturated or omega-3, which help control the levels of blood pressure and cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
A powerful antioxidant. Particularly, this grain contains high levels of flavonoids, antioxidants known for its ability to protect and fight against diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
A rich source of vitamins and minerals. The long list includes B-vitamins like riboflavin and folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc, all of which make this grain a perfect addition to your diet!
How to Cook Quinoa
Quinoa is a fast-cooking, tasty addition to all types of foods. Stir one cup of quinoa into two cups of boiling water (or broth). Optionally, you can add some olive oil and a pinch of salt). Cover the saucepan and simmer over low heat. The white version will take you no more than 15 minutes to prepare, whereas the red and black varieties take about 5 minutes longer.
But even though the process of cooking quinoa seems like a no brainer, it is very easy to end up with a bitter and mushy mixture instead of the expected smooth and fluffy mass. That is why this post elaborates the crucial steps you need to take in order to cook the best quinoa ever.
How to cook quinoa step 1: Rinse
Quinoa has a protective coating called saponin, which makes the grains taste bitter-y but is easily removed by rinsing. Packaged quinoa available in the supermarkets is most likely pre-rinsed, but there’s no harm in rinsing it once more, just to be safe.
Place the grains in a fine-mesh sieve, then place the sieve under a running cold water for a few seconds, occasionally swishing with your hand. Shake off the excess water to drain. Another option is to soak the grains for 5-10 minutes, but rinsing gives the same results in no time.
How to cook quinoa step 2: Toast
Toasting quinoa is an optional but preferable step as it will intensify the nutty flavor. Grease a skillet with a bit of oil (preferably olive or canola) and heat it over medium-low heat. Add the drained grains and, stirring constantly to avoid burning, toast for about 3-5 minutes until the water evaporates and the grains are golden in color.
How to cook quinoa step 3: Liquid
As mentioned before, the quinoa/water ratio is 1:2. One cup of dry grains produces about three cups of cooked grains.
To cook quinoa, you will need a large saucepan or a rice cooker. Bring two cups of water to a rolling boil, then add the grains. Add some salt, cover the saucepan and simmer over low heat.
Besides water, which is the healthiest and most convenient option, you can also use other liquids such as mushroom, chicken, or vegetable broths (just make sure they are low in sodium). The cooking process remains the same as with water, the only difference being the final result, as broths will contribute some extra flavor. Another option is to add some white wine into the broth (one cup grains –combines with 1 ½ cups broth plus ½ white wine).
How to cook quinoa step 4: Cooking time
This super-grain cooks very quickly, in about 10-15 minutes. Some package instructions suggest to turn off the heat the moment you add the grains into the boiling water, but it is best if you just turn the heat down, cover the saucepan and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed.
How do you know if the quinoa is done? When the grains look popped open, releasing the germ of the seed (resembling a tiny tail). For best results, remove the saucepan from heat and let it stand for about five minutes, covered.
How to cook quinoa step 5: Fluffing
After the quinoa is cooked, separate the grains using a fork to make it fluffy and airy.
Note: if you notice any liquid at the bottom of the saucepan or if the grains are crunchy, return to heat and cook for another 4-5 minutes, covered, at low heat until the liquid is fully absorbed.
Amazing Quinoa Recipes
When simply boiled in water, quinoa is quite tasteless. However, this should not be considered a flaw – the lack of flavor makes this nutritious grain perfect to include in a variety of sweet and savory recipes.
The possibilities are countless – it can be used as a rice, couscous or pasta replacement, or a flour substitute in bread, pancakes and baked goods. Quinoa can be added to salads to contribute some texture and volume or be consumed as a healthy breakfast cereal.
Here are some easy and simple recipes to help you make quinoa a staple in your everyday diet.
Breakfast Quinoa Recipes
Besides fresh apple slices, this recipe makes use of 100% natural, unsweetened apple juice that provides sweetness and moistness. There is no need for adding any sweeteners whatsoever, but if your sweet tooth is still raging, opt for pure honey. Let’s not forget the walnuts that bring in some crunchiness, along with their heart-protective polyunsaturated fats.
The protein content in this recipe really hits the roof! White refined flour is replaced with whole wheat and cooked quinoa and mixed with other rich protein sources like yogurt and eggs. The mixture is the complemented with healthy coconut sugar to turn your standard sugar-loaded breakfast into a completely nutritious treat!
Break your breakfast routine with this simple savory treat made with eggs, ham, swiss cheese, and quinoa. This tasty egg bake will take you about 45 minutes to bake but is big enough to provide you with a fulfilling breakfast (on the run) during the whole week!
Lunch Quinoa Recipes
This healthy and hearty soup is made super-easy with the use of a slow cooker. The recipe is very flexible- you can replace the butternut squash with sweet potato, mash it to make the soup creamier, or add different seasonings like chili or fajita.
Tilapia fish is a great source of protein, unsaturated fat, and calcium. It fits perfectly in this light recipe recommended by the Weight Watchers. To additionally decrease the calorie count, bake the fish in the oven and complement it with sautéed vegetables and fresh herbs.
Besides a load of veggies – creamy sweet potatoes, corn, black beans, and red pepper wrapped in a tortilla – this recipe makes use of yet another superfood – avocado. In addition to its amazing creaminess, this delicious fruit contributes about 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, combining with cilantro and green chili in a tasty green sauce poured over the enchiladas.
Dinner Quinoa Recipes
Quinoa is a perfect meat substitute for vegetarian burgers and meatless meatballs. These vegan and gluten-free burgers contain patties made by mashing some come chickpeas, beans, and sweet potatoes as well as garlic and onion. The mixture is then combined with cooked quinoa and complemented with spices and fresh herbs. If you are not following any restrictive diet, dip these patties in beaten egg and breadcrumbs before cooking to make them crispy on the outside.
Turkey meat is probably the healthiest type of meat to use in your recipes. It is a rich source of protein, B vitamins, as well as minerals like iron, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus, plus it is very low in fat. This recipe combines turkey breasts with tri-color quinoa which, besides a number of health benefits, also contributes a fun color pop!
Spicy, hot, sweet and salty flavors blend in this amazing Thai Chicken recipe. The dish is made with marinated boneless skinless chicken thighs, covered in a sticky golden syrup that explodes with exotic flavors! To increase the authenticity of this recipe, serve with cilantro and peanuts.
Dessert Quinoa Recipes
When you read the full recipe title – Gluten and Sugar-Free Quinoa Brownie Bites with Sugar-Free Ganache you know you have just hit the jackpot! In addition to being without sugar and gluten, these fudgy and nutty brownies are low in calories as well! Quinoa is used as a flour substitute, whereas the ganache is made with sugar-free dark chocolate chips or, alternatively, unsweetened carob chips. Perfect for sneaking healthy ingredients into your kids’ diet!
There is no dessert easier, lighter, and better-looking than a parfait. This dessert is usually made with layers of yogurt, fruit, and granola, but in this recipe, the last item is replaced by quinoa. Crunchiness won’t be missed since this healthy grain is made crispy by baking it in the oven for about 25 minutes!
These cookies made with quinoa flour and melted coconut oil are very easy to make. They can be consumed both for breakfast, served with a glass of milk, or as a dessert. Crispy on the outside and absolutely soft on the inside, they will blow your mind with the texture and richness of flavors. To make them extra flavorful, add some unsweetened coconut flakes to the dough.