The New Year is the perfect time for culinary adventures, and if you haven’t already discovered quinoa, let me introduce you to the ancient food. Healthy, flavorful, and easy to cook, it’ll become your new go-to grain.
Find out why the United Nations decided 2013 will be the International Year of Quinoa.
Quinoa isn’t technically a grain, though. We call it that because you can use it like rice, barley, couscous, and pasta. It’s actually a seed from the quinoa plant. Thousands of years ago, Inca warriors relied on the nutrient packed seed for power. We now know why. Unlike grains, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s gluten-free and an amazing source of antioxidants and heart-healthy fatty acids, which remain intact even after cooking.
But the best reason to start eating quinoa is the flavor. Cooked quinoa has a delicate, fluffy texture and a nutty flavor. The most common variety is white and looks deceptively like couscous or millet. But red and black quinoa are cropping up more often these days. As a rule, the darker the quinoa, the more crunchy the texture and nutty the flavor.
Cooking quinoa couldn’t be easier — add one cup of quinoa and two cups of water or stock to a saucepan, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes.
The white variety will become a translucent body with a spiral tail and the seeds will stick together. The red and black versions keep more of their seed shape when finished. Don’t add more water to the pan — they’re supposed to be that way. Longer cooking won’t soften the seeds more.
You can use all three varieties of quinoa interchangeably in any recipe. As a guide, think of white quinoa as a good substitute for rice. While lighter in texture, it has a similar creaminess that works in stir-fries, soups, casseroles, and warm side dishes. The texture of red and black quinoa makes them a beautiful addition to cold salads. These types also shine when paired with smooth, buttery foods like avocados, winter squash, or creamy cheeses. Black quinoa has a slight fruity flavor that underlies the nuttiness, so try it with citrus fruits and pears.
It’s going to be an amazing year. I can taste it.