With the warmer weather ahead, many people are looking to move away from stodgy winter foods and shed a few kilos in the process, as Georgia Harding writes.
Quinoa becomes a staple in my household in the warmer months. It’s such a nourishing way to bulk up a salad so I stay fuller for longer, and my kids love eating it too. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is one of the most nutritious, well-tolerated foods available. It is often considered a grain but it is, in fact, a seed of a plant closely related to spinach and beets. This is a food I am more than happy to put in the ‘super’ foods category. In Peru, they consider it ‘the mother seed’ and many health experts consider it the most nutritious food of all.
Quinoa has a nutrition profile rarely found in nature. It is protein-rich containing a complete amino acid profile normally found only in meat. It also contains twice as much fibre as any grain and is also gluten-free, yippee!
It has much health-promoting Phyto (plant) chemicals including antioxidants and bio- flavanoids, often in higher concentrations than berries. Research confirms that it contains many anti-inflammatory properties and a very impressive concentration of minerals including iron, magnesium and calcium.
Not only is it highly nourishing, it is also energy-dense, which means it is very low in calories compared to the same volume of other foods. It’s alkalising, has a low glycemic index and I could go on about it forever. It’s a fabulous food to include in vegetarian or vegan diets and is great for kids who are ‘meat’ fussy to keep their protein levels on track.
Preparation and cooking quinoa
The only irritants found in quinoa are, like many grains, oxalates. But soaking it (if you have the time) will help to negate this. The seed is also coated in slightly bitter saponins (a soapy compound). Therefore rinsing it really, really well in a fine sieve is essential (agitate or rub it with your fingers also, to help remove the saponins). This will remove any bitter taste. To cook it use one part quinoa to two parts liquid. The best liquid is either water or even stock (for savoury dishes). Bring it to the boil then simmer until the quinoa becomes opaque, approximately 15 minutes (10-12 minutes if soaked). You can also cook it in a rice cooker. Cooked quinoa freezes well so always cook more than you need so you have it ready to grab when needed.
I use quinoa to replace rice, in both sweet and savoury dishes. It makes delicious salads, is lovely in soups, great as a porridge and quinoa flour can also be used in baking (usually in combination with another gluten-free flour like rice flour).
Here are a few ideas for including quinoa in your diet:
Breakfast: Cook the quinoa in water as above (I often do this the night before or first thing in the morning). In a small pot, gently heat the quinoa with the milk of your choice (dairy, coconut oil, nut milk). Add a little cinnamon, maple syrup or brown rice syrup to taste and top with fresh fruit. It’s a high protein, high energy start to the day. Rolled (flaked) quinoa can also replace rolled oats in breakfast porridge (or half-half is lovely too).
Lunch: Mix a can of tuna, some salad greens or herbs, cherry tomatoes and feta through a cup of cooked quinoa. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil, season and serve.
Dinner: Serve quinoa instead of rice with a stir fry or curry. This is delicious, especially when cooked in stock. Quinoa and rice pasta is my favourite pasta and I always choose it over regular pasta.