Keen on Quinoa


By: Denisse Oller

A confession. When I first tasted quinoa, more than 10 years ago, in a modest Peruvian diner in Paterson, New Jersey, I found the lightly grainy texture and earthy flavor a bit off-putting. Now, I eat quinoa at least three times a week. I love preparing it for my guests and was gratified to see my colleagues at Advocate Community Providers, including my Chinese friends, going for seconds when I introduced it at a DASH workshop earlier in the year.

Once found only in specialty shops, quinoa is readily available in supermarkets. Although it is in fact a seed, quinoa is hands down the most popular of the so-called “ancient grains,” which also includes spelt, barley, oats, bulgur, Farro, amaranth, buckwheat and chia. (All are delicious and well worth trying!)

So where did this superfood come from? Quinoa was a dietary staple of the Andean peoples thousands of years ago. The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to it as chisoya mama or "mother of all grains."

Two tips. First, it is pronounced as “keen-wah,” not “kwin-oh-ah.” Second, always rinse it well before cooking to remove a bitter protective coating. Otherwise, quinoa cooks very much like rice, two measures of water for one of grain. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.

Like rice, quinoa is incredibly flexible. It can be served hot or cold, as the main dish or on the side, plain or seasoned. From chain restaurants to fine restaurants, it is not unusual to find quinoa in dishes as diverse as risotto, paella, salad, soup, bread and even dessert.

Do give it a try! You don’t have to be a gluten-free vegetarian health nut to enjoy Quinoa. Think of it as a very healthy and delicious alternative to rice. Quinoa is a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids, which is rare for a plant source. In fact, it contains more protein than any other grain while also packing in iron and potassium. One half cup of quinoa has 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. It is also high in fiber.

And we have the Incas to thank for it.